Mount St. Mary’s 2017 NCAA tournament win will forever be in the record book, but a late decision by New Orleans will likely haunt the Privateers for a lifetime.
The Mountaineers scored the first win of this year’s Big Dance, 67-66, on Tuesday at the First Four in Dayton to advance to a first-round matchup Thursday with No. 1 overall seed Villanova in Buffalo.
But that’s probably not what most people will remember from this game.
No, instead, it’ll be the strategy New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger and his team employed with the game in the balance.
Privateer senior Nate Frye connected on two free throws with 33 seconds remaining on the clock and his team down by a single point.
Now, conventional wisdom in this situation – down a point with a three-second differential between the game and shot clock – would dictate playing for a steal initially and then fouling to send Mount St. Mary’s to the line and extend the game. If you can’t get the steal, you will still be (overwhelmingly) likely to get the ball back with either a chance to tie or win the game and plenty of time to execute a play.
Pretty simple, straightforward and standard operating procedure, right?
Not for New Orleans, apparently.
The Privateers elected to play the possession out, ultimately getting a stop and a rebound, calling timeout with 3 seconds to play.
So instead of likely having upwards of 20 seconds and a deficit of two or three, New Orleans was down one with the full length of the floor to go.
In their attempt for a Christian Laettner-esque moment, the Privateers couldn’t even complete the inbounds pass, with the heave heading directly to a Mountaineer across halfcourt to end the game.
The strategy is difficult to fathom on a number of levels. First, it totally flies in the face of normal game strategy, but second, it puts all of New Orleans’ hopes in a low-percentage possession. If they elected to foul with around 25 seconds left, even if Mount St. Mary’s hits both free throws, the Privateers could still conceivably go for a quick two and play the foul game again, getting the ball with a chance to tie or maybe win with still more than a paltry 3 seconds on the clock.
It’s hard to fathom how this strategy optimized New Orleans’ chances.
But, in the end, Mount St. Mary’s is moving on after controlling the game from nearly start to finish, and making big plays down the stretch. Junior Robinson scored 23 points and Miles Wilson tallied 17.
Now, the Mountaineers’ reward is a trip to snow-covered Buffalo to face the defending national champions. It’s a tall task, but it certainly beats the alternative, as New Orleans can likely attest.