NEC fans are certainly aware of the “6 on 5 scandal” that reached a national audience yesterday, thanks to Deadspin. It happened in the NEC quarterfinal between Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis Brooklyn last Wednesday evening. The Terriers were firmly in control of the game through 30 minutes of play, thrashing the hosting Mountaineers by 19 points. The game, of course, was far from over, but it looked fairly hopeless for the Mount at the time. (Trust me, I was there.)
Nevertheless, Jamion Christian’s Mountaineers never gave up (cue the I-BELIEVE-THAT-WE-WILL-WIN chant from the Mount Maniacs), as Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack began to carry the offense by attacking the rim with reckless abandon. More importantly, the once porous Mountaineer defense – they had given up 1.12 ppp through 30 minutes – began to put together some desperately needed stops. Slowly but surely, the Mount started to shave away the deficit, cutting the once insurmountable Terrier lead to eleven points. There was one problem, however. The game clock whittled down to 1:53 by then. According to KenPom, the likelihood of a Mount St. Mary’s comeback had been reduced to a paltry 0.7% (aka 7 out of 1,000). It only slightly improved to approximately 1.0% when the Mount trailed by eight with 1:02 left on the clock. My friends, those are some brutal odds.
Obviously, the Mount came back to win that game, and two more, but it wasn’t without any controversy. In those stunning quarterfinals, Rashad Whack stole the inbounds pass and laid it in, cutting the Terriers’ deficit to one point with just 30 seconds remaining. This was done with six players from Mount St. Mary’s on the court, yet it was never caught by the officials nor Glenn Braica and his coaching staff.
Like the Bartman incident in the 2003 NLCS or Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series, the 6 on 5 play will be remembered as the pivotal moment of the Mount’s frentic and remarkable comeback, though it should not be. Had the Terriers executed in the final moments of that quarterfinal, Whack’s “illegal” steal and lay-up likely doesn’t happen, or if it does, the Terriers’ lead is certainly greater than a single point.
To prove this point, allow me to delve into the Terriers’ ineptitude over that fateful minute and a half of basketball. St. Francis fans, I offer my sincerest apology for doing this, so if you’re the type to become nauseous when reliving these brutal moments, or if the mere mention of St. Francis’ 0-8 record in the NEC quarterfinals since 2004 makes you physically ill, please turn away from the screen.
- St. Francis 65, Mount St. Mary’s 57, 1:29 remaining – After the Mount sank two free throws, the inbound pass went to Ben Mockford. Rather than pass the ball up the court to open teammates, Mockford tried to cross over Gregory Graves 75 feet from the basket. That was problem #1. Graves picked his pocket, went in for an uncontested lay-up, but not before Mockford inexplicably bare hugged Graves to prevent said lay-up. An intentional foul was called and we have problem #2. Graves made one of two, followed by Prescott hitting a lay-up off the inbound under the basket. That mental lapse by Mockford cost his team three points.
- St. Francis 68, Mount St. Mary’s 60, 0:54 remaining – One empty Mount possession led to the St. Francis duo of Lowell Ulmer and Kevin Douglas to make three of four free throws. Coming back on the other end, Sam Prescott is fed a pass in the corner off an offensive rebound. Prescott rushed the three and was fouled in the act of shooting by Brent Jones. Never foul a three-point shooter! Jones’ fourth foul results in Prescott calmly making all three free throws. Now the crowd is fired up, leading to Roy, the Mount’s radio color analyst saying on the air, “(St. Francis) must have went to the dumb dumb school.” It was, after all, a dumb dumb foul.
- St. Francis 68, Mount St. Mary’s 63, 0:52 remaining – With Ulmer inbounding the basketball, he attempted to lob it in to Mockford. The desperation pass finds its way out-of-bounds off Mockford in front of the Mount bench. Off the turnover, Julian Norfleet gets fouled driving to the lane by Brent Jones, who has now fouled out after committing two silly fouls in the past ten seconds. There goes one of the best free throw shooters St. Francis has on the roster. (Not to mention Alek Isailovic who fouled out earlier.) Norfleet drained both freebies, turning the suddenly competitive game into a one-possession affair.
- St. Francis 70, Mount St. Mary’s 65, 0:43 remaining – After freshman Yunus Hopkinson hits two more free throws, Gregory Graves converts an offensive rebound into a made field goal on the other end. How exactly did Graves perform this task with such ease? Four Terriers were out on the perimeter defending the three, while the 5’10” Hopkinson was stuck defending Graves (accidentally I assume). With just Graves and the pint-sized Hopkinson in the paint when the Mount’s three-ball clanged off the iron, Graves had perhaps the easiest two points he’ll ever encounter this season. I doubt Glenn Braica wanted Jalen Cannon 20 feet away from the basket during that defensive sequence.
- St. Francis 70, Mount St. Mary’s 67, 0:29 remaining – Here’s where the infamous 6 on 5 play occurred. With three Mountaineers near the baseline defending Mockford and Hopkinson, the inbounder panicked and sailed a pass over his teammate’s head near the free throw line. Whack astutely charged in to pick up the ball and make a contested lay-up.
- St. Francis 71, Mount St. Mary’s 70, 0:08 remaining – Given all of the Terrier miscues, the second to last possession will likely sting the most when looking back, because St. Francis had a chance to officially ice the game. Instead, Ulmer missed three of four free throw attempts – two straight after a Norfleet turnover with 10 seconds remaining – allowing Whack to drill his ridiculously clutch three-ball with two ticks remaining. Pandemonium in Emmitsburg!
So there you have it. Within the span of the 1:29, the Terriers committed three turnovers and three fouls, which included a costly intentional foul and one on a three-point shooter. They also blew at least one defensive assignment and missed four out of ten from the charity stripe.
Give the Mount credit – they were brilliant in fouling the right people and managing the clock, but make no mistake, this loss was on St. Francis. They may have been cheated for a 2.5 second sequence, yet if the Terriers had simply executed better down the stretch, perhaps they would have been in Moon Township battling for a NEC championship on Tuesday night.
While it’s certainly easy to scream foul with the 6 on 5 play, just remember that one of the all-time great comebacks in NEC playoff history was much more than that.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride