Chris: It turns out your favorite homers were right for a change when we both predicted RMU would defeat LIU in the first round of the NEC tournament. The Colonials became the first seven seed to upset a two seed since 2004.
Lee, I want to talk about that game before we move on to Part II of “Operation Revenge, a need for tears”. First, what a game. It was everything that March was about. Upsets, game-winners, intensity, passion… It had it all.
Lee: That was one of the best games I’ve watched in a long time. The weird part was it was a game full of dudes just making plays and shots. We haven’t seen a lot of that this season with this group. It’s been more defense defense and more defense. It’s always nice to be on the right end of games like that, but hat tip to LIU. Awesome game. March is officially here.
Chris: I think we both felt that RMU was going to win because of a really strong defensive performance. The defense was good, but wasn’t great. The fact that they still won like that is really encouraging. LIU was going to be a tough matchup because they had two extremely good bigs and then three very small guards. A job well done.
Also, will you let me go on a little Kavon Stewart tangent?
Chris: I’ve voiced this multiple times to the peeps in our inner circle. I’m sure we’ve talked about this before. But Kavon Stewart deserves a big round of applause. This guy is a straight OG man. The Kavon from a year ago would have missed that shot 10 times out of 10. Off-balance, lefty floater over the NEC Player of the Year while playing a not-very-good game. It’s a credit to where he’s at mentally. The turnovers, the missed shots… it didn’t bother him. He wanted the ball in a big moment and made the most of it.
We are never going to look at Kavon’s career shooting numbers and fawn over them. They’re not good. He never developed a right hand around the rim. His mid-range jumper is streaky, to put it lightly. But how can anyone ignore what this guy has accomplished? I don’t understand how anyone could hate on him. He’s been one of the best passers in the NEC for FOUR seasons. Four! And even with diminished talent around him the past two years, his assist rate remains one of the highest in the league. He’s an above-average rebounding guard. He has quick hands on the defensive end. It’s the 90/10 theory. We tend to look at the 10 percent that’s bad rather than the 90 percent that’s good. So, folks, keep hating because he’s not in the mold of his predecessors. Keep sleeping on No. 3. But when the game is on the line – whether it comes down to one player getting to the rim (like we saw Wednesday) or at the free throw line – I want #3.
I feel better now.
Lee: There was not a person in the arena who thought anyone else was taking that shot. Bottoms. He was truly awesome down the stretch (7-7 from the line too!). For my full thoughts on that, and other tidbits of information, check out my recap. As for K, the last thing I’ll say is this. In my opinion, the best thing you can say about any point guard?. He’s a true extension of the coach on the floor. Kavon surely is, my man just makes winning plays.
On to the Semis
Lee: Alright Chris, the revenge tour continues. Taking down the two seed was fun. Now RMU gets the number one, and it’s that familiar friend from Emmitsburg, MD. It’ll be the eighth time in the last 12 seasons the two programs will meet in the NEC tournament, per the NEC’s own Ron Ratner.
RMU lost both regular season meetings by a total of five points, including a one point loss at Mount back in late January. They easily could have gone 2-0. Since that last loss, RMU has gone 5-1 and has switched to a small ball lineup that has revitalized the offense, and ignited the defense by turning turnovers into points.
Chris: I think from the beginning of the season it was clear that the offense was off. And not in the sense that “Wow, these guys can’t make shots” type of off, because that was obvious. But something just felt weird. It was like there was no true identity. Some games the focus was to feed Braden Burke and Aaron Tate. For other games, it was like they wanted to run but didn’t really have the pieces to do so.
Going small has helped a lot, but it should be noted that the rotation really trimmed down these past few weeks too. Billy Giles, who got a little run in the LIU game, barely plays anymore. Roberto Mantovani doesn’t play. Jordan Lester started some games early in the season and hasn’t played since. We’ve seen a little more Lorenzen Wright Jr. because of it. This team was always athletic, but now it feels like the right pieces are out on the floor to showcase that athleticism to its full potential.
As for this upcoming game, I’m still up in the air on what to think.
Lee: In the first meeting, RMU had complete control of the game. They led by 10 at one point, and then the wheels fell off. I think they went like nine minutes without a point. That’s how you lose a game when you don’t let your opponent score 50 points.
Chris: There are two things that scare me. Like you mentioned, this offense is totally capable of not scoring for hours. I mean, there’s almost a skill to it. It’s like watching the regulars at a bar come in night after night. You want to help, but there’s really nothing you can do.
I’m also terrified of Junior Robinson. He’s capable of hurting opponents with his passing and long-range shooting. That kid just has an “it” factor to him. I feel extremely uncomfortable when he has the ball.
Lee: A few keys — Turnovers. This is obvious but when you play the Mount you MUST take care of the ball. It can’t hurt that RMU will likely have four guards on the floor at all times. They got some easy buckets breaking the press in the second meeting.
Next, gotta make open shots. When you play a team that pressures you all the time, you have opportunities to break it and get good looks either at the rim or from three. RMU is shooting well from three lately, for their season standards anyway (9-24 at LIU, 10-18 vs SHU, 8-22 vs FDU, all well above their season average of 31 percent), and they’ll need to continue that trend. In the second meeting, RMU went 3-13 from downtown. That won’t cut it. Neither will missing plus man break opportunities (2-on-1, 3-on-2 etc). I can recall five or six easy layups that were missed versus LIU. Gotta convert those opportunities. I believe with the way RMU is playing, they’ll continue to ride Uncle Mo, to a 65-60 win, and another trip to the title game. Chris, what does Andy Toole need to get from his team to make it back to the NEC Title game?
Chris: Those are all great points, but I think I’m worried that this group of guys are who they are. Yes, they have to convert at the rim and make open shots, but overall, these guys just aren’t very good at that. The good news is Mount St. Mary’s isn’t an offensive juggernaut either.
I think we’ll get a good feel for this game early. I would love to see the guys take it to the rim and really attack Mawdo Sallah. He only got credit for one block last game. It felt like 11.
You know what else I hope happens? I hope Toole is in Dachon Burke’s ear 24/7. Burke wasn’t named to the NEC all-rookie team, but Mount St. Mary’s Miles Wilson was. Burke is one of the best defenders in the NEC but didn’t even seem to be in the discussion for DPOY. “You mean to tell me those guys are better than you?” Dachon is going to take Elijah Long out of this game. He’s already done it twice and will do it again. The same goes for Kavon Stewart. “You mean you’re the most experienced point guard in this conference, you’ve shown up in the biggest moments and you weren’t even named to an all-conference team?”
There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with momentum and a chip on its shoulder.
Robert Morris: 66
Mount St. Mary’s: 63