Bay Reflection
Hail Mary:
The Mount Is Maryland’s Other Basketball Power
by Christopher Heagy

When we entered the bar, we wore Mount T-shirts to display our loyalty. After a few before-game beers, our belief in our team’s chances grew. Maybe a small college from northern Maryland could put an unbelievable run together. Maybe they could knock off a giant powerhouse from Michigan. Maybe, just maybe, the sun would be shining, the stars would align and our little team could make the impossible happen. At least for a few moments, our imaginations drifted and our dreams ran wild.

Before the game between Mount Saint Mary’s and Michigan State, anything seemed possible. Our team was undersized and out-manned. Michigan State, at 30-4, had been the best team in the powerful Big Ten. Mount Saint Mary’s, at 15-14, had snuck into the NCAA tournament by winning the championship of the mousy Northeast Conference.

Michigan State was led by All-American Mateen Cleaves and a brilliant young coach named Tom Izzo. The Mount had the wily old veteran, head coach Jim Phelan, and a team full of tough, scrappy no-name players. We were a school of 1,400 confronting an opponent of over 20,000. Decades of Mount alumni can’t match the graduates of one class at Michigan State. But for a few moments, we wanted to believe that the little guy could win. We wanted to believe that something great was not only possible … but almost certain.

When I was a junior at Mount Saint Mary’s, our basketball team made it to the Big Dance. The entire school got together and watched the game. It was a great moment: our tiny team was battling with the big boys. We faced a Kentucky team on its way to the national championship. The talent, quickness and size of Kentucky overwhelmed our team. We lost by 46 points. That outcome seemed pre-determined.

Tonight would be different. The Spartans could be upset.

It had taken The Mount four years to get back to the tournament, but it was still electric. My friends were no longer at the college, but all of us pulsed with hope. We made plans to watch the game, to recapture that excitement. I couldn’t make it to Milwaukee, but a group of us rallied in New Jersey.

For the first five minutes, the basketball gods watched over The Mount team. We were able to match blows and even put a little scare into the mighty Spartans. After a thunderous dunk by Melvin Whiter, the Mount led 11-7. An upset was brewing.

Then the basketball gods went deaf to our pleas. After a time-out, Michigan State took a 17-14 lead and never trailed again. The Mount trailed 38-24 at the half.

We were still happy. Our team had made a good showing. With a few breaks, something special happening was still possible.

But nothing special happened. The Spartans used superior size, athleticism and defensive intensity to wear our players down, putting the game out of reach. Mount Saint Mary’s trailed 72-40 before a garbage-time run put the final score at 76-53.
The dreams, hopes and possibilities of the pre-game had met reality.

But something special had happened. For Mount Saint Mary’s, a school that often gets confused with a small liberal arts college in Southern Maryland, (St. Mary’s) recognition is exhilarating. We’d achieved our goal; we’d gotten into the tournament. Even though we aren’t likely to beat Michigan State, we can compete against the powerhouses.

We’d had another moment in the sun.

Now I say, "Go Terps."

Christopher Heagy of Cape St. Claire, who joins NBT with his first piece, hopes that your office pool is going better than his.

| Issue 11 |

Volume VII Number 11
March 18-24, 1999
New Bay Times

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