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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Back to the Championship Game

Ok, I've calmed down enough where I think I can bang out a little bit about the Mount's 69-60 win over Robert Morris in the NEC Semifinal today at a place they call The Chuck, like Ground Chuck I suppose. See I was afraid if I wrote this three hours ago, I'd say nasty things like (Did you hear the Mount fans chanting NIT as the game wore down) or remind folks had bad All-NEC Velton Jones (2-for-17 and four turnovers) was today. And that I'd be too much the fan - and not enough the clear headed enthusiast.

Okay, I got my jabs in. Robert Morris will always be Enemy #1. That was cemented with the great tourney games the teams played last decade. But the thing is, Bobby Mo forgot about it. While the Mount was busy wallowing through the Robert Burke years, RMU was playing its new biggest rival, Long Island and losing in two straight NEC championship games.

Still Robert Morris deserved all the pregame accolades. This was a team that had won 20+ games against a tough non-conference schedule and been the class (most consistent) of the NEC regular season for the duration. No longer were the Colonials this grind it out defensive team that just tried to frustrate you to death to beat you. That left with Mike Rice and when Andrew Toole was able to bring in some better talent. Now Robert Morris spread the floor, launched threes and went hard to the glass with a combination of slashers, shooters and rotating big men that added up to a deserved conference champion.

Robert Morris - as they were from that perspective - deserved to be a favorite - and 8.5 was probably a fair number.

But even so, going in from my perspective it was hard to see the Mount as an underdog. Hard to see them as a team that couldn't beat anyone put before them now. Because it wasn't like the most recent 8 games, all wins, that preceded the Mount entering the Chuck for an afternoon semifinal, were against the Sisters of the Poor. In fact, Robert Morris probably should have handed the Mount thank you cards as they entered. Because it was this Mount team that on two straight Thursday nights knocked off the league leaders. Bryant first, then Long Island next, essentially allowing Robert Morris to win the conference and ironically wrap up the guaranteed NIT bid that they sent them to this afternoon.

No the Mount didn't really deserve that. They deserved a lot more. And on Saturday they showed why they deserved it.

In the postseason, it is so often that the best TEAMS win. And that's no knock on the Colonials. It's just what we've known in or around the Mount for the last several months is that this team is truly a team.

That even though Rashad Whack is the leading scorer he might not be that on every night. And on night's when he isn't the Mount still has a fighting chance.

And Raven Barber has been so key down the stretch. Of course, he's done it while sharing time inside with three others who all bring something different and needed to the package.

And Sam Prescott scored 44 one night. And hasn't taken a forced selfish shot in the games that have followed.

Shivaughn Wiggins has added so much to the team with his on the ball defense. And then at the other end he turned into the NEC Rookie of the Year after winning the weekly award 5 times. Some nights he scores, some nights he passes, and at 5 foot 10 inches he rebounds. And his coach will tell you, and it's hard to disagree, that his defense means the most.

And then there was last year's leading scorer, Julian Norfleet. The lefty from the Tidewater Area has yielded all season to others. Made concessions within his statline for the better of the team. So when starting point guard Josh Castellanos went down with an ankle injury, who was better to step in than Norfleet. He had made all sorts of sacrifices all season - and going to the head of the offense would be another. As this string started, it became apparent that Norfleet could handle the role and more so. He stuffed the stat sheets, found open teammates and all of a sudden that lefty stroke came back.

Castellanos came back from the ankle injury after missing several games and never regained the starting job he had held for the past two and a half years. And as the season went on, his minutes became less and less. But the junior from the Orlando never sulked, never became the problem that lesser people would have. Instead, he cheered, pushed and encouraged his teammates and when Norfleet went down with of all things an ankle injury on Saturday afternoon, Castellanos came off the bench to solidify the offense and help preserve the win.

There didn't seem to be a Mountaineer among them who noticed the difference. Because it became apparent to them a long time ago, back in the preseason workouts, back on the fall camping trip, back on the Frederick House Build project that if these guys wanted to accomplish something, they had to accomplish it together. And when the bad things happen as they always do, you find a way to adjust and make the situation good. And there's nobody out there to help you but your teammates.

That's the Mountaineer team we've been watching this whole year.

It's that team that couldn't be considered an underdog on Saturday. It's that team that played like a favorite.

And it's that team we'll be watching on Tuesday night in the NEC Championship Game.

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