Last year at this time, the College of Mount Saint Vincent Dolphins was just about to call it a wrap on the season, stumbling through a forgettable 8-17 campaign, which also saw them post an anemic 6-10 mark in the Skyline Conference.
The league record was so poor the Dolphins failed to even qualify for the conference tournament.
But this year, under first-year coach James Mooney, there was an unexpected turnaround. Picked to finish eighth in the 11-team conference in the Skyline’s preseason coaches poll — far behind conference powers Farmingdale State and Purchase — the Dolphins were more after-thought than highly thought-of coming into the season.
But then The Mount started the Skyline season winning three of its first five games, a few eyes opened. Yet it was still early in the season.
When The Mount reeled off seven straight conference wins to take over first place in the league, the Dolphins had morphed from a feel-good story into a legitimate title contender.
And that’s where the Dolphins remained as they entered the penultimate week of the regular season tied with Farmingdale for Skyline supremacy. But a costly 59-53 home loss to Old Westbury last Saturday kicked the Dolphins out of the conference penthouse. And with just two regular-season games remaining — both on the road — the path to that conference crown just got a little bumpier.
Last Saturday’s game against Old Westbury was supposed to be a great send-off in the final home game for the Dolphins’ senior class of Andrew Curiel, Jose Maestre, Mike Mulligan, Matthew Sowah, Ryan Fraser, Neeko Zeno and Ammad Alkhulaidi. But someone forgot to tell the Panthers as Old Westbury jumped out to a 22-21 lead at the half to help silence The Mount crowd.
They then kept the Dolphins at bay in the second half as Preston Powell poured in his game-high 21 points. Terrin Roland added 11 points and Alan McDonald chipped in with 10 for Old Westbury to provide just enough offense to hold off the Dolphins.
Mount suffered a big loss when Alkhulaidi left the game with an apparent head injury, missing all but 21 minutes of play time. His departure left a huge void in the Dolphins’ lineup as the senior forward leads the team in both points scored (14.6) and rebounds (9.8).
Curiel paced the Dolphins with 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor while Barrera added 11 points off the bench. But that just wasn’t enough as The Mount shot just 33 percent from the floor.
The game did mark the return of Sowah to the Dolphins lineup after he missed the past several games with a concussion. He finished with eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
The once hot start by the Dolphins has cooled somewhat of late as they are now just 3-3 in their past six games to bring their overall record to 15-8, and 13-5 in the Skyline Conference with two games remaining. Make that two critical games remaining.
The Dolphins exited this past weekend in sole possession of second place in the Skyline, one game behind first-place Farmingdale and one game ahead of third-place Purchase. The Dolphins were scheduled to visit Purchase on Feb. 13 before the regular-season finale at Farmingdale on Saturday Feb. 17, with the regular-season title potentially on the line.
So what is the benefit of a first-place finish in the conference, other than bragging rights? Well, the conference’s regular-season champion would never have to leave its campus during the tournament as all games are played at the site of the higher-seeded team.
A second-place finish will buy the Dolphins a home game in the quarterfinals and semifinals. But unless Farmingdale was to stumble along the way, there would be no championship game at the Sharp Center.
So two games remain. Two games for the Dolphins to, hopefully, see the return of Alkhulaidi to the lineup and to shake off the rust of the past six games.
Despite the loss to Old Westbury, there is still a chance for The Mount to win out and host the Skyline tournament right here in Riverdale. A chance to make this turnaround season even more memorable.
Two more wins. It’s still all there for the taking.