Mount St. Mary’s trailed St. Francis 31-23 at halftime of the NEC Championship on Tuesday. Even worse, Mount St. Mary’s was playing on its home floor.
In the second half, though, things changed. The Mountaineers outscored the Red Flash 48-30 and won 71-61.
Mount St. Mary’s is going dancing.
“What an incredible atmosphere,” Mount Saint Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “That’s what college basketball is all about. I’m just happy we’re going to get a chance to represent the NEC in the NCAA Tournament.”
Christian, a former VCU assistant, has coached at Mount St. Mary’s for five seasons. He last led the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, when they lost in the First Four.
“This is my sixth championship game in 11 years, third in five years here at the Mount,” Christian said. “So I felt like having a level of experience and kind of knowing what to expect benefited our team tonight.”
But here’s the crazy part: Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) began the season 1-11, losing to West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan, among others.
That was by design.
“We played the No. 6 strength of schedule in the country to start the year, and I’m a big believer than in order to be successful, you got to learn how to experience failure and move on from it,” Christian said. “You got to be able to learn mental toughness and emotional toughness through those situations. If you look at these teams that play no one in the course of the season and then they get to gut-check time in February and March, they don’t have anything to go with. You got to be able to build that kind of character and equity up by playing good teams, and we played good basketball.
“Everyone talks about being process-driven over result-driven, but then everybody plays these really soft schedules,” Christian continued. “I’m a big believer in being process-driven, we’ve recruited guys that are process-driven, and that means they’re able to lock in on each game we’re playing in. They’re not so locked into the result. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but at 1-11, my goal was to be the happiest, most enthusiastic 1-11 coach and to keep pumping belief into our guys. I’m never afraid to tell our guys how much I love them and really point out to them what we’ve done well.”
That’s why Christian created the ‘Embrace the Good’ document.
“We literally kept adding to the ‘Embrace the Good’ list every single game and removing things from the things we were doing poorly on the back side of the sheet,” Christian said. “I think it helped our guys marginalize winning and losing and just understand that it’s about the details and they’re going to create something special. We’ve been able to do that.”
Christian doesn’t know where the Mountaineers will play in the NCAA Tournament, whether they’ll be in the First Four again or somewhere else. But that’s the beauty of March.
“I love it,” he said. “That’s one of the best things about college basketball – being a part of Selection Sunday and not knowing where you’re going to go. We could be in Dayton. We could go right in. Whichever one, we’re going to be excited about because anytime you’re playing in March, it means every game you’re playing has some meaning. We’re all about playing games that are important there, and we’re excited about the opportunity to play whoever.”