This Mount team has been through rough stretches before.
Head Coach Dan Engelstad preaches a defense-first game to his Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team. The defense feeds the offense, and for large portions of the season, the Mount has thrived on that mentality.
For as solid as the defense has been, the challenge for every quality team is playing and closing out full games with a shutdown defense and turning those stops into counterattacks.
The Mount’s game on February 15 against St. Francis epitomized that struggle for consistency.
The first half for Mount St. Mary’s was as clinical and efficient as they have looked all season. The defense was suffocating, and it played perfectly into the team’s stellar transition game.
St. Francis is one of the top teams in the Northeast Conference (NEC), and the Mount held them to just 20 points in the first half. Forward Nana Opoku’s tenacity in the paint shut down opportunities for St. Francis’ top scorers, and that energy fueled the offense in the first frame.
Mount St. Mary’s held a 15-point lead and looked as dominant as Engelstad strives for his team to be.
“We had a really good effort in the first half,” Engelstad said. “I thought our defense was in a good place once we started sprinting back and getting stops. We did a really good job of holding a good offensive team to 20 points.”
The momentum quickly shifted at halftime, though, and the scope of the game changed rapidly over the next 15 minutes.
St. Francis’ offense exploded, and the second and third chance opportunities that were shut down in the first half were suddenly available in the second frame.
“The second half was the tale of two teams,” Engelstad said. “We got comfortable, and they hurt us inside and outside. We’ve got to look inward. There are a lot of things we need to do better, that I need to do better.”
St. Francis outscored and out-rebounded the Mount drastically over the second half, pulling out a 15-point lead and closing out the game with a 70-55 victory over Mount St. Mary’s.
“We have to find a way to get stops,” Jalen Gibbs said. “It’s not going to be easy, and we know that. We just have to keep pushing.”
There is no easy fix for consistency, outside of putting the hours in practice day in and day out, but it’s not for lack of effort on the basketball court.
“We’ve been through tough stretches and come out with four wins in a row on the road,” Gibbs said. “We just need to lock into the details.”
With just a handful of games left in the season, it’s now or never for this Mount team. The talent is there, the effort is there, and the right attitude emanates through the locker room.
“This is the biggest part of our season. We still have a lot to play for,” Engelstad said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we still have a lot more basketball ahead of us.”
The Mount control their own fate, and despite the struggles as of late, the team’s in-conference record has them in the thick of it in competing for a long postseason. This team has faltered on its path before and come out stronger than ever, and there’s no reason they can’t replicate that to close out the regular season.
With its most important games still left to play, this Mount team now has the chance to execute to its potential and prove to everyone that this team isn’t going down without a fight.
Jalen Gibbs takes it to the hoop on the counterattack.