Mount St. Mary's edges New Orleans in First Four
DAYTON - Junior Robinson is the smallest player on the court in every game he plays. But, the junior guard continues to come up big for Mount St. Mary's. He did so again Tuesday night, on college basketball's biggest stage.
The 5-foot-5 Robinson scored 23 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 1:29 left, and Miles Wilson added 17 points to lift Mount St. Mary's to a 67-66 victory over New Orleans in a NCAA Tournament First Four matchup of No. 16 seeds at University of Dayton Arena.
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"We needed a bucket. Coach told me to keep it, and I went and got one," Robinson said. "We're living a dream right now. And in order to keep that dream going we've got to go out and compete against the best team."
The Mountaineers (20-15) advanced to face No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in the East Regional on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.
"At the end of the day ... we all play basketball, it's the same size ball, same size net," said Mount St. Mary's guard Elijah Long. "It's who wants it bad. And Villanova is a great team and one thing they bring to the table is their heart. So we just gotta match that."
Mount St. Mary's led by one point with 34 seconds left. New Orleans chose not to foul and Robinson's missed jumper gave the Privateers possession with 2.9 seconds left.
But, a long inbounds pass by Erik Thomas was intercepted by Chris Wray to preserve the win for the Mountaineers.
"It was a well drawn-up play by one of our coaches," Thomas said. "and I tried to deliver the ball to them, it was a little high."
It was the Mountaineers' first NCAA Tournament victory since 2008 after starting the season 1-11.
"I believed in these guys from day one," said Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian. "Today we were able to find a way to be a little bit better. In the month of March, that's all that matters. We have players that believe in each other."
Robinson, the shortest player in Division I this season, went 3 of 6 from 3-point range and had three assists.
It was a tough loss for New Orleans (20-12), which rebuilt its campus and basketball program after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Privateers finished 10-20 last season, making it the ninth-best improvement in the nation.
"I can't be more proud of where our program has come in a short time," said New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger. "To be able to go through the adversity we've been through is 100 percent credit to our student-athletes, to their commitment to the university, their commitment to our city and their commitment to each other."
Nate Frye led New Orleans with 18 points and Thomas added 12.
After a slow start offensively, Robinson sparked the Mountaineers to 13-1 run over four minutes with back-to-back 3-pointers. He scored eight points in the first half.
New Orleans missed six straight shots during that stretch as Mount St. Mary's built an 18-11 lead. The Mountaineers led by as many as 11 points in the first half.
The Privateers closed the first half on a 10-2 run to cut the Mount St. Mary's lead to 32-29 at halftime. It was the Mountaineers' first-ever halftime lead in an NCAA Tournament game.
New Orleans scored 12 points off eight Mount St. Mary's turnovers to claw its way back into the game.
Mount St. Mary's averages 13.1 turnovers and they had 11 by the 15-minute mark of the second half.
Travin Thibodeaux's rim-rocking dunk cut the Mountaineers' lead to three. His floater with 11 minutes remaining tied the score 49-49. Thibodeaux finished with 11 points.
Christavious Gill hit two free throws to put New Orleans ahead 64-63 with 1:48 left. It was the Privateers' first lead since 15:29 of the first half.
But, Robinson answered with a jumper moments later to put the Mountaineers back ahead by one, setting a school record for most points in an NCAA Tournament game.
On Thursday, Mount St. Mary's will take its best shot at becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1.
"Records are meant to be broken," Wilson said. "We're going to go and play really hard. Hopefully the ball bounces our way."
NOTES: Mount St. Mary's landed its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance by winning the Northeast Conference tournament. ... The Mountaineers started the season 1-11, including losses to top-25 opponents West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan. ... New Orleans last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1996. The Privateers' last tournament win came in 1987. ... Mount St. Mary's split its previous First Four appearances, defeating Coppin State in 2008 and losing to Albany in 2014.