EMMITSBURG — With the chance to do something it hasn’t done in a quarter-century, the women’s basketball team at Mount St. Mary’s admittedly felt the weight of the moment Monday night.
“I don’t want to say we came out with jitters, but we were a little bit nervous,” said redshirt junior forward Kendall Bresee, who previously starred for Urbana High School. “I mean, it was the first conference [tournament] game. We have the chance to go all of the way with the talent that we have. So, I think we came out a little bit flat and nervous.”
Locked in a 25-25 tie at halftime with Long Island University, the No. 7 seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament and a team the Mountaineers beat by an average of 19 points on two occasions in the regular season, Mount coach Maria Machesano walked into the locker room, expressed her frustration and, more or less, told her players to figure it out.
And that’s what they did in the second half.
Playing with a purpose and much truer to their trademark up-tempo style, Mount St. Mary’s blitzed Long Island for 55 points in the second half on its way to an 80-47 victory in an NEC quarterfinal game at Knott Arena.
The victory was significant for a number of reasons for a team seeking its first NEC title since 1995.
For starters, the Mountaineers advanced to Thursday’s conference semifinals. As the No. 2 seed, they will host No. 3 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (13-17, 9-9 NEC), which came into Knott Arena last week and closed the regular season with a 66-63 victory over the Mount.
“We are excited,” Marchesano said. “We know that we didn’t show up last Thursday. I would love to play them. That’s not a shot at them because they are a really, really good basketball team.”
The teams split their regular season meetings with Mount St. Mary’s winning 69-61 on the road over Fairleigh Dickinson on Feb. 1. That ignited a nine-game winning streak for the Mountaineers.
Mount St. Mary’s will head into that semifinal with 20 wins, the most it has had in a season since 1999-2000. The quarterfinal win over Long Island raised the Mount’s record to 20-11 overall and 15-4 in NEC games.
“It’s a cool number. It’s something we can brag about,” Marchesano said about reaching the 20-win plateau. “Just in the big scheme of things, it’s a number people seem to strive for in college basketball. But that number doesn’t mean much in terms of our goals and what we are trying to do.”
The Mountaineers, who were hosting their first NEC tournament game since 2014, looked like a completely different team in the second half against Long Island.
They were more aggressive, more assertive. Their ball movement was significantly better. They were making extra passes for easy baskets.
As a result, they outscored the Sharks 30-8 in the third quarter to break the game open.
“That [poor] first half just wasn’t us,” said leading scorer Michaela Harrison, the team’s sophomore point guard who finished with 14 points and was one of six scorers in double figures. That marks the second time this season that many players scored 10 points or more in a game for the Mount.
Bridget Birkhead scored a game-high 17 points off the bench for Mount St. Mary’s. Bresee had 11 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds. Junior center Rebecca Lee finished with 13 points. Redshirt freshman guard Aryna Taylor had 11 points off the bench, and redshirt-junior guard Kayla Agentowicz finished with 10.
“So much fun,” Bresee said of the second half. “I think you can tell the difference. We are all jumping, laughing. Everything was not more laid back, but everything was way more enjoyable. It wasn’t as stressful because we had a bigger lead.”
Earlier in the day, Bresee and Harrison earned All-NEC honors that were voted on by the coaches in the conference.
Harrison was named first-team All-NEC, while Bresee was a third-team selection.
“We’re going to take it, and we are going to keep pushing and doing what we’ve been doing and hopefully keep winning,” Bresee said.