There was a lot of uncertainty at the start of the season for Mount Saint Vincent.
The Dolphins were coming off a very forgettable 8-17 campaign, missing out on the Skyline Conference tournament, and breaking in a new head coach — albeit one very familiar with the Dolphins program — in former star James Mooney.
So when the Dolphins were picked to finish eighth in the 11-team Skyline preseason poll, no one thought twice about it.
“There were doubts, as there should have been with a new coach and new everything,” Mooney said. “But when we beat Mount Saint Mary on Dec. 15, right before the (Christmas) break, I really think that spearheaded everything. Our second game back from the break we beat Southern Vermont, and from there we just took off on an eight-game winning streak. And as we kept winning, we rose to the top. It was then that guys were like, ‘Wow, we are for real now.’”
The Dolphins were, indeed, for real this season as they doubled their win total, finishing 16-11 overall, went 13-7 in conference play, and made a spirited run to the Skyline Conference tourney semifinals.
But that’s where the Dolphins’ surprise turnaround year ended as The Mount dropped a 70-63 decision to Purchase College, putting an end to its season. Despite the overall success of his initial campaign as head coach, it was still a hard pill for Mooney to swallow.
“For the most part it was a back-and-forth game,” he said. “We were down for about 34 to 35 minutes, we were playing from behind a lot. Then Purchase started hitting some big shots while we were turning the ball over, and they went up by 13 late in the first half. We closed the half-down nine (40-31) but it was just very difficult for us to score. Their length is tremendous and they really protect the rim well.”
The Dolphins got a double-double from senior Ammad Alkhulaidi, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Jose Barrera added 11 points in the Mount cause. But it was just not enough to overcome the Dolphins shooting woes in the game.
Mount shot just 22-of-64 from the field (34.4 percent) and an even more anemic 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) from three-point range.
“We just couldn’t hit our outside shots,” Mooney said. “We didn’t trust our outside shots. I was telling them you got to take the shots that they’re giving you and you got to find that mid-range game. But we just couldn’t get the good looks that we needed.”
A few times, Mount pulled within a single bucket. But time and again Purchase would answer with a big basket to help quash the Dolphins’ comeback attempt.
“We fought, we truly did,” Mooney said.
While it was not the storybook ending Mount had hoped for, there was reason to celebrate a season that saw the Dolphins once again become a player in the Skyline Conference.
It was a season that not only saw Mount be one of the last four teams standing in the tournament, but one that saw the Dolphins occupy the top spot in the standings for several weeks down the stretch.
“I greatly appreciate what we did,” Mooney said. “I truly didn’t know what the real expectations were going into the season. I’m optimistic by nature, but I’m a realist as well, so I just didn’t know what to expect.”
What Mooney can expect now is a lot of time on the recruiting trail as eight seniors will depart from the program this spring. And while Mooney characterized his recruitment for next season as “promising so far,” that’s really a story for next season. What he really wanted was to send off his group of seniors with a little championship hardware before they graduated.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t deliver a championship for the seniors,” Mooney said. “I really desperately wanted to give them that. But what I told them after the game was, when we do inevitably win, they are going to be a big reason why we did because they helped spearhead this whole culture change for the good.
“So they are going to be every part of that championship whenever it happens.”