The fifth-seeded Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers are one more upset away from the NCAA Tournament as they are set to square off with the third-seeded Long Island Blackbirds in the Northeast Conference Tournament Championship at the Wellness Center.
After an unimpressive start to the 2012-13 season, Mount St. Mary's has reeled off nine straight victories to close within one game of the Big Dance. The Mountaineers upset the NEC' No. 1 seeded Robert Morris on Saturday in Moon Township to punch their ticket to the title game. Rashad Whack poured in 26 points, while Sam Prescott tallied 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Mountaineers will be tough to fend off if Whack continues to perform at the same level. The 6-foot-2 junior guard went 7-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the semifinals as Mount St. Mary's hit on 44.7 percent of its field goal tries and converted 19-of-25 at the charity stripe. The Mountaineers led the regular season NEC champions by as many as 20 and limited the Colonials to just 34.4 percent efficiency from the field in the bout. Mount St. Mary's will need Whack (14.0 ppg, 2.1 spg) and Prescott (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) to duplicate their performances as Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg) was injured in the semifinals and is not expected to be available for the championship round.
LIU's head coach Jack Perri was one of 10 finalists selected for the Joe B. Hall Award, presented nationally to the top first-year Division I coach. The Mount's Jamion Christian also appeared on the list. Their squads split their regular-season series. Long Island won the first matchup, 86-72, on Jan. 12 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but Mount St. Mary's avenged the loss on Feb. 21 with an 83-71 decision.
Long Island picked up its fourth win in a row on Saturday, also on the road, as it upset the second-seeded Wagner Seahawks, 94-82. C.J. Garner had 23 points to pace six Long Island players in double figures. Jamal Olasewere had 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Jason Brickman also notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in the win. The two-time defending NEC champion Blackbirds also received a strong outing from its bench as Booker Hucks scored 14 points and fellow reserves, E.J. Reed and Troy Joseph, added 13 and 12 points, respectively. No NEC team has ever won the tournament title in three consecutive seasons in the 32-year history of the event.
Olasewere finished third in the conference with 19.2 ppg and fourth with 8.3 rpg, while leading the nation with 8.4 free throw attempts per game. He became the second straight Blackbird to take home NEC Player of the Year honors after Julian Boyd was awarded the hardware a season ago. Olasewere, along with Second-Team All-NEC point guard Jason Brickman, who led the NCAA with 8.5 apg this season, create a formidable one-two punch for Long Island. Garner finished eighth in the conference with 15.3 ppg, but he is averaging 21.1 points over his last 10 games.