EMMITSBURG — In future seasons, even if the cast remains largely the same, the outcome might be different.
If Mount St. Mary’s holds its opponent without a point for the first 5 minutes, 25 seconds, playing some of its best defense of the season like it did Thursday night against Fairleigh Dickinson in a Northeast Conference men’s basketball game, it might have more than a seven-point lead.
When the Mountaineers were ahead by 14 at halftime, like they were in this season’s home finale at Knott Arena, they might be better equipped and better able to deliver the knockout blow.
In another season or two, they will likely be stronger and more mature physically and won’t allow teams to dominate them or take control of the game around the basket.
And, in another season or two, they will probably be smarter and more experienced and make better decisions at the key junctures of a game.
All season long, Mount St. Mary’s tried not to use its remarkable youth — no juniors or seniors on the roster — as a crutch or as an excuse.
But, like Thursday’s 65-59 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, the Mountaineers’ youth was just too much of a factor.
“That’s a big, strong, physical team,” Mount coach Dan Engelstad was quick to point out about Fairleigh Dickinson after the game. “I thought FDU really controlled the pace of the game in the second half. They had some upperclassmen that made some big plays, and they are a big team.”
Fairleigh Dickinson (16-13, 11-6 NEC), which can still finish with the best regular season record in the league, hung around despite not scoring for nearly six minutes at the start of the game.
The Knights used a 16-2 run at the start of the second half to erase the Mount’s 14-point halftime lead. And, when the Mountaineers surged back in front by nine, Fairleigh Dickinson closed the game on a 28-13 run over the final 9:35.
“They just came out really physical in the second half,” said freshman forward Malik Jefferson, who finished with a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds for Mount St. Mary’s. “Obviously, because we got into foul trouble as a team so early, I think that really slowed the game down, and that was to our disadvantage.”
With one game to play Saturday afternoon at St. Francis Brooklyn, the Mountaineers dropped to 8-22 overall and 5-12 in the NEC. In home games, they finished with a 4-9 mark, including a 2-7 record in conference games.
“I am so appreciative of our fans,” Engelstad said. “I am so appreciative that they have supported us through this season, and they came out tonight and were great. They have been great all season. You know, we have won eight games, and they are just behind us. So, I am more hurt that we weren’t able to close [the home schedule] off not just with a [win] for our fans but for our guys. I thought they have been pretty resilient this year.”