If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was just another ho-hum win for the Mountaineers of Mount St. Mary’s.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock, there was Jamion Christian, as calm as you could possibly be. No pacing the sidelines. No over-the-top fist pumps. Throughout the game, in fact, a stoic Christian mostly stood in one spot while assessing the game right in front of him.
Afterwards, the former Shaka Smart assistant conveyed his “inner” excitement, but still kind of downplayed the sheer importance of getting his first win as the head coach of the Mount.
“I obviously was pretty excited about it,” said Christian. “Two of my life mentors are Milan Brown and Jim Phelan, so anytime you get a chance to do something that they’ve done – that one of your mentors has done – you’re obviously really excited to do it. Honestly, I was more excited for our guys in their home opener.”
For the home fans, it was the opening act of the Mount Mayhem, or HAVOC, or anything you’d like to call it. Whatever your moniker of choice, there’s no denying the chaotic properties it imposes on the opposing team. Tonight, Mount Mayhem forced 20 Hartford turnovers and was responsible for the single most important stretch of the game – a 12-0 Mount run in the middle of the second half that gave them the lead for good. The run was punctuated with a corner three by freshman Shivaughn Wiggins and then a backcourt steal, layup and the foul by Marist transfer Sam Prescott. The quick turnaround lasted all of 1:21, brought the Knott Arena crowd to its loudest point, and gave the Mount a 60-53 lead. It was a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
“We call it Mayhem, and it’s great because that’s what is going on, our guys were on the floor yelling ‘Mayhem,’” said Christian with a smile when asked about the 12-0 run. “It’s a style of play that we’re committed to doing. We have the bodies to do it.”
Things weren’t so smooth for the Mount early on. After leading 10-9 in the first half, Hartford took back the lead for the rest of the first half by breaking the Mount’s full court press and sinking 56.5% of their shots from the floor. Even though Hartford held the lead, a patient Christian was still encouraged with what he saw.
“We knew at the end of the first half they started missing, started making longer passes, so we knew our style of play was going to wear them down,” said Christian. “The trick is you don’t know when that’s going to be. You don’t know if that’s going to be in the 38th minute or the 29th minute. You really don’t know but you just have to continue to play the game.”
Sophomore Mark Nwakamma led the Hawks with a team high 21 points on 13 shots, while also corralling eight rebounds. The athletically gifted 6’6″ forward made his presence felt everywhere on the court, yet like the rest of his team, he struggled late in the game with the Mount’s full court pressure. His five turnovers and four missed free-throws – two of them on the front end of one-and-ones – was symbolic of a Hartford team still trying to find their way late in games.
“We have ten freshmen and sophomores,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher after the game. “We’re going to be really good here. A lot has to do with how Mark (Nwakamma) grows, how Yolonso (Moore) grows, how Evan Cooper grows, how Nate (Sikma) grows. At this level you can’t turn it over 20 times. It can’t happen.”
The Mount also turned it over 17 times, showing us they’re still a young team adapting to a new system. One player that was steady throughout the game though, was junior Rashad Whack. The George Mason transfer led the Mount with 20 points (on ten shots), six rebounds, and four steals. It was Whack’s long-range shooting, however, that kept the Mount in the game when Hartford was doing a solid job of neutralizing the Mayhem. Whack drained a couple of corner threes by finding the open spaces on the floor against Hartford’s 1-3-1 zone. Gallagher was consistently changing up his defenses to keep the Mount guards off balance throughout the game.
But like any good coach, Christian adjusted by playing Josh Castellanos and Wiggins – two ball-handling guards – together for much of the game. Unfortunately for Kelvin Parker, he only saw the court for five minutes.
“I really liked the matchup with Shivaughn (Wiggins) playing some ’2′ tonight,” explained Christian. “Castellanos was going to get his minutes and then Julian (Norfleet) and Rashad (Whack) were just really seeing the floor well. Because of [Hartford's] changing of defenses, you gotta have guys on the floor that can handle the ball and make decisions. I just didn’t feel like it was a great night for Kelvin (Parker).”
All in all, Christian played nine guys with regularity, a common trait for the Mayhem style. Eight players scored for the Mount and as Christian illustrated tonight, he’ll do whatever it takes to win, even if it means playing a core guy just a little less for one game.
This is the new age of Mount St. Mary’s basketball. Deep rotations, full court pressure, and fun up-and-down-the-court basketball. It’s an exciting time for the Mount and quite possibly tonight was the start of something special for the Jamion Christian era.
Soon enough, Mayhem will be coming to a NEC gym near you.
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride