elijah long

Elijah Long, centre, is a guard for the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers. 

It's the greatest time of the year in sports.

The month of March is synonymous with basketball. And it all kicked off on Tuesday night at the University of Dayton Arena with a do-or-die doubleheader in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament First Four.

The night started with a battle of 16-seeds, as the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers took on the New Orleans Privateers. On the line was a trip to Buffalo, New York for a meeting with the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats.

It was the first trip to the Big Dance for the Privateers since 1996, while the Mountaineers made their fifth tournament appearance in program history.

And they failed to disappoint the fans who filled the UD Arena as the two teams exchanged blows in the perfect appetizer for the rest of the March Madness menu.

Coming into the game, the player to watch was Elijah Long, a sophomore guard out of Mississauga, Ontario who led The Mount to the Northeast Conference title as the conference's Player of the Year.

But if the battle between two schools with a combined student population of just over 10,000 was far from a David and Goliath matchup, the Mountaineer's 5'5" guard Junior Robinson would fill the role of the stone-slinging Biblical underdog perfectly.

Robinson, who was the shortest recorded player in Division I basketball this season, played with a tenacity and desire that willed his team past a bigger and stronger Privateers squad.

And with Long struggling from the field, Robinson took over like a man on a mission. His stat line indicated a man who played beyond his stature.

23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, with 4 assists and 2 steals. And a handful of highlight reel plays along the way.

Although he struggled, Long had a smile on his face in the locker room. When asked if he ever envisioned himself on a stage as grand as the NCAA Tournament as a kid growing up in Mississauga, he was perfectly honest.

“No I did not," said Long. "Because when I was growing up it was so hard for Canadian basketball players to leave. But that older generation, like Tyler Ennis and Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, they made it way easier for us."

Long, who only attempted seven shots from the field, deferred to his teammates when the shots weren't falling.

And with Robinson having the hot hand, his decision paid off as the Mountaineers live to fight another day.

“Games like that are always gonna happen," Long said about his struggles. "That’s why it’s a team sport. But Junior was hitting his shots so I knew I had to give him the ball and he was playing the point a lot more than I was. I was just playing my role and I wasn’t being too aggressive because the ball wasn’t really rolling for me. But in the second half I stepped up and made big plays both for myself and my team.”

Those big plays came in the game's pivotal moments, as New Orleans clawed back to take a one point lead late in the seesaw battle.

One particular basket, a play that saw Long glide his way past three defenders, brought an uproar from the crowd.

And it's those kinds of plays that the Mountaineers will need if they want to give Villanova a run and become the first ever 16 seed to overtake a one seed.

"I know a couple of guys on that team so, yeah, I was definitely tuned in," said Long about whether he watched Villanova in the 2016 national championship game. "No, I wouldn't have guessed once out of 100 times that we'd be playing Villanova, but dreams come true and it is March Madness. So this is part of the madness. And we're looking forward to it."

It's unlikely that the Mountaineers come away with the win against Villanova, let alone keeping the game close.

But there's a reason they call March mad.


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