It was a battle of The Mounts last Friday night in North Riverdale, and what a battle it was.
Four players scored in double figures, and the College of Mount Saint Vincent was able to shake off a sluggish first half with a dominant second as the Dolphins downed Mount Saint Mary 77-62 at the Peter J. Sharp Center.
The victory, which boosted the Dolphins record to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the Skyline Conference, was inspired by the team’s tight bond and dedication to each other, according to head coach James Mooney.
“They love each other and it’s genuine,” he said. “It’s not faked, and that translates on and off of the court. On offense and defense, we have each others backs. We make the extra pass. It’s been clicking. It’s been going well.”
Matthew Sowah, the Dolphins’ senior guard, agreed, crediting the team’s ability to work together.
“My teammates (keep me energized), the bench keeps everything alive for us,” said Sowah, who scored 16 points in the win. “Even when we’re tired, coach always tells us to dig in. We think of when we’re in practice doing suicides, but it’s all about getting the win. That’s what makes it all worth it.”
Sowah, who also had six rebounds and three assists, said it’s not just the upperclassmen fueling the Dolphins’ resurgence this season.
“This team has a lot of camaraderie,” Sowah said. “We only have two new freshmen, and the way that they work so hard it doesn’t even feel like they’re freshmen anymore. They fit right in and do their roles. They come in and hit big shots.”
One of those freshman is guard Makai Johnson, who, like Sowah, played more than 30 minutes in Friday’s win.
“If my teammates mess up, I’m there to pick them up,” said Johnson, who logged 13 points in the victory. “ If I mess up, they’re here to pick me up. It’s a brotherhood.”
Despite the team unity, Mount Saint Vincent struggled in the first half. The Dolphins were down at least 10 points for most of the opening half before finding themselves in a 38-30 hole at halftime. Free-throw shooting was one source of the team’s first-half issues as the Dolphins sank just 2-of-6 foul shots.
“I think our confidence shifted, we started to build a lead, and I kept on telling them to just finish this game, let’s make them pay,” Mooney said. “We took that to heart and we made our free throws.”
Mount Saint Vincent converted 16-of-20 from the foul line in the second half as the Dolphins outscored Mount Saint Mary 47-24.
“I think that we realized what we could do,” Mooney said. “Sometimes we start games strong, and sometimes we end flat. During halftime, we adjusted how we defended ball screens, which was a big adjustment for us defensively. And on offense we just continued to run our stuff.
“Eventually they got sloppy, and we took advantage of our looks.”
The Dolphins overwhelmed Mount Saint Mary on the inside as Mount Saint Vincent held a 54-22 edge in rebounding. Senior forward Ammad Alkhulaidi led the Dolphins with 13 boards.
“I’m just playing hard every game,” Alkhulaidi said. “We didn’t start out great, but it’s not just about Xs and Os on the court. It’s about heart, and you can’t coach that. I come in with energy, try to get offensive and defensive boards, and I try to get my teammates in a winning position.”
Alkhulaidi mentioned this team is different than the ones he’s been part of in his first three seasons.
“I’m not going to be here next year,” Alkhulaidi said. “I can’t be selfish this year and I really need to trust my teammates. In the past I’ve had trouble with that, but this season we have a lot of guys who can score the ball.”
One of those scorers is senior guard Jose Maestre.
“I knew that when I got in there I had to spark something for us,” said Maestre, who had seven points while playing with a dislocated thumb. “We were losing in the first half, and when I got in, I had to help give my team some more light.”
Senior Andrew Curiel added a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, as did sophomore Raiquis Harris, who turned in a 14-point, 10-rebound effort.
“This team needs to keep fighting every day, bring the energy every day,” Maestre said. “Sometimes we’re too lackadaisical and we have mental lapses, but we pick each other up, and we have to continue to bring the energy.”