There were plenty of reasons that could have dethroned the Mount as the NEC champions on Sunday night at Knott Arena.
But a suffocating defense that limited the efficient Sacred Heart Pioneers to 39% shooting and nine field goals in the second half, a key effort off the bench from a junior from Texas, a raucous home crowd and a won't lose attitude were enough for the Mount to pull out a gritty, gutty 68-63 win and earn a berth in the NEC Championship on Wednesday night at Robert Morris.
When star point guard Jeremy Goode picked up three fouls in a span of 5 seconds (the play by play says they all came at the 17:23 mark - and it seemed that way - but I think the final foul came at 17:18) it certainly looked dire for the Mount. The Mount trailed 44-42 at the time of the fourth personsal on the team leader and the momentum had already started to sway to the Pioneers at the start of the half. Goode had scored 12 points in the first half and was creating opportunities for his teammates.
But his teammates stepped up and played nearly 8 minutes without him erasing a deficit that got as big as 4 at one point and turning it into a four point lead when Goode reentered.
A lot of the credit during that run must go to Will Holland. The junior gave the Mount the lead at 47-46 on a big three-pointer with 15:28 to play and the Mounties never trailed again. Sacred Heart did manage to tie the score at 51, but Holland managed to score on two straight trips and the Mount began to build a lead.
That lead got as big as nine with 3:20 left when Shawn Atupem (12 points) made a pair of free throws. But Sacred Heart wouldn't go easily. Ryan Litke buried a three, Chauncey Hardy made a layup, and Casey Hassan scored on a runner to make it a two-point game with 1:16 to play.
The Mount failed to score on its next possession. Ryon Howard had a chance to tie the game but his jumper wouldn't fall and Jean Cajou grabbed the rebound and got fouled. He made one-of-two free throws to make it a 66-63 game. The Mount dodged another bullet when Litke misfired on a three with 12 seconds to play. Kelly Beidler (who led the Mount with 13 points - and played tremendously again) made two free throws off an intentional foul to seal the trip to Corapolis.