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No. 1 mountain too tall for Mountaineers to climb

The Mount St. Mary’s fans refused to sit down. Why should they? Mount Mayhem was for real, and the unthinkable upset seemed possible.

Finally, during a timeout with 16:54 remaining, the seats started getting used in Section 116. With 12:24 to play, all the Mount fans nestled into their KeyBank Center chairs.

Top-ranked reality kicked in.

Villanova went on a 13-0 run early in the second half, sending the plucky Mountaineers and their fans back to Maryland. The Wildcats, who trailed nearly the entire first half, pulled away for a 76-56 victory Thursday night in KeyBank Center.

"I’m really proud of our group, and I use that word proud because they were tremendous in their ability to execute our game plan and just give this No. 1 team a big scare there in the first half," Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian said.

During an impressive first half by the Mountaineers, their fans bought into the notion of the inaugural victory by a 16 seed. They chanted. They shouted. One woman held up a sign that read, “We’re gonna party like it’s 1957” – a reference to the only time Mount St. Mary’s had beaten Villanova in their first 11 meetings.

The sign will be good next year. The shot-blocking, charge-taking Mountaineers couldn’t keep it up after halftime.

The Mount got its ideal start. It scored the first bucket. The Wildcats missed their shots, and the ones that looked good got swatted into the crowd.

The fans kept looking up at the scoreboard: 5-0 … 7-0 … 10-2.

"We thought they were going to come out and try to punch us in the face right away, but obviously that wasn’t the case," Mountaineers guard Elijah Long said. "I was very proud and I was very excited that this might be a good game and we could take this win, but unfortunately we didn’t."

Slowly, Villanova showed signs of being the defending champ. It finally tied the game with 5:44 left. The teams traded buckets until the buzzer, but the Wildcats left a big claw mark by sinking the final layup. Villanova went to the dressing room with a 30-29 lead and the belief it held off the underdog’s big charge.

It was right. The Mountaineers scored the opening basket of the second half, then Villanova reeled off 13 straight points as part of a 21-4 run.

"We should have been winning the game," Christian said. "We really played a good half. I felt we were just right there. In one way, I was really so inspired by our group's defensive effort, but I felt like we really squandered an opportunity to finish that half and go into the half up one, which would have been huge for us momentum-wise."

Junior Robinson, the 5-foot-5 darling of the play-in victory Tuesday, never got rolling. After playing all 40 minutes and scoring 23 Tuesday's 67-66 win over New Orleans, Robinson sat for six minutes of the first half with foul trouble and finished with seven points.

Long also had a forgettable night. He shot just 3 for 16 and finished with 10 points.

Their departures in the final minute let the Mount fans rise to their feet again. This time, it was in appreciation of what could have been. After the game, the players walked toward their section, and the sides saluted each other.

"For them to come all the way out to Buffalo and show support is great," Mountaineers guard Miles Wilson said. "We were 1-11 at the start of the season. Nobody believed in us but our family and our community. They showed support and stayed with us the whole time."

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