Hall Elisias and Bryant came up short in NEC title game
By KEVIN McNAMARA
The dream just wasn’t meant to be,.
For one of the few times in this special season, the Bryant Bulldogs weren’t clicking on offense. Mount St. Mary’s bigger, stronger team had a lot to do with that, of course, and the Mountaineers grabbed the Northeast Conference championship with a 73-68 victory Tuesday night.
Mount St. Mary’s started fast and finished with just enough time, making some clutch free throws to snuff out a Bryant rally in the final minute.
”We made some shots and made some plays and we got it down to the last 30 seconds,” coach Jared Grasso said. “We play hard, we’re going to compete. We were just out of sorts.”
Crafty point guard Damian Chong Qui controlled the game, leading his team with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Nana Opoku came up big inside with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Charles Pride led Bryant with an outstanding 33-point effort but several of his teammates were off their games. Peter Kiss (12 points) was the only other Bulldog in double figures as Bryant was held to 38 percent shooting. Guards Michael Green and Chris Childs, two players who missed the NEC semifinals due to COVID protocols, were not sharp and combined to shoot 3-for-19.
“They didn’t have it today. They just struggled,” Grasso said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow but sometimes it’s one you need to swallow to take the next step.”
Mount St. Mary’s looked in control with a 67-58 lead and just 1:31 on the clock but Bryant kept playing and closed to two points in the final seconds.
A step-back heave by Pride made it 67-64 with 55 seconds left. Bryant chose to foul and Mount made two. Bryant’s Michael Green hit two free throws with 42 seconds left to make it 69-66 and when Mount made just one of two for a 70-66 lead Pride rushed in for a layup to make it 70-68 with 16 seconds to play.
Bryant put Mount big man Opoku on the foul stripe with 15 seconds left and the 45 percent foul shooter nailed two clutch shots to make it 72-68. When Bryant’s Green missed a driving layup with eight seconds left, Mount rebounded and the comeback was over.
Mount advances to the NCAA Tournament where its 12-10 record will likely merit a spot in the First Four. Bryant’s best season in years ends with a 15-6 record.
“They have good size, they protect the rim,” Grasso said of Mount’s defense. “It’s hard to prepare for. That’s what they have, that’s why they are good defensively.”
Mount St. Mary’s is a perennial contender in the Northeast Conference. They celebrated on Bryant’s floor, cutting down the Chase Center nets.
“I’ve never won a championship at any level. I can’t even put it into words,” said guard Chong Qui. “This is an unbelievable feeling.”