Fairfield, CT (Sports Network) - Freshman Jean Cajou came off the bench to score 15 points and grab six rebounds and fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary's earned its first NCAA Tournament berth in nearly a decade with a 68-55 victory over third-seeded Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game.
Cajou was 3-for-4 from three-point range and was one of three Mountaineers reserves to total double-digit points. Kelly Beidler had 15 points and Shawn Atupem went for 12 and four rebounds.
Mount St. Mary's (18-14) last won the NEC tourney in 1999, when a title game victory over Central Connecticut State gave then-head coach Jim Phelan his 800th career victory. The Mountaineers advanced to this year's title game with a quarterfinal win over Quinnipiac, followed by an 83-65 upset of top-seeded Robert Morris in the semis.
"In the back of my mind, I knew that bringing a championship home would definitely be great for me," said Mount St. Mary's coach Milan Brown. "But it is going to put a smirk on his (Jim Phelan's) face too, even though I know he was so nervous that he didn't watch the game."
Brice Brooks scored 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds for Sacred Heart, but the Pioneers (18-14) shot a horrid 29 percent as a team and whiffed on an opportunity to earn their first-ever NCAA bid on their home floor at the Pitt Center.
"We're disappointed naturally," said Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike. "I thought we had a not so good record at home this year. It's unfortunate we shot 29 percent and you have to tip your hat to Mount St. Mary. I thought they got to the line a little more than I'd like them to, but again, it's tough to look good shooting 29 percent."
The Pioneers were within two with just over two minutes remaining after a Chauncey Hardy putback, but Jeremy Goode got behind the SHU press and found Beidler for a dunk to make it 59-55. Sacred Heart's Drew Shubik then committed his ninth turnover of the night, leading to a pair of free throws from Beidler and a six-point Mountaineers advantage with 1:19 to go.
"We consider ourselves the number-one defensive team in the conference and I believe this, right here, proved it," said Beidler. "We played at their gym, everyone was thinking that they're going to win and we came in and shocked everybody."
Sacred Heart couldn't get any of its desperation outside shots to fall, as had been the case all night long, and Mount St. Mary's put the game away with near-perfect foul shooting in the final minute.
Goode was the lone Mountaineer starter in double figures, finishing with 13 points and five assists, and Mount St. Mary's forced 16 turnovers.
Shubik totaled 13 points, but made just 1-of-6 field-goal attempts, and was responsible for more than half of his team's giveaways.
Mount St. Mary's jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the opening eight minutes, despite its point guard, Chris Vann, picking up a pair of early fouls and spending most of the half on the bench. Sacred Heart went more than 10 minutes without a field goal, but stayed in the game at the free-throw line and trailed just 28-23 at the half.
The Pioneers scored the first six points of the second half - an 11-0 run in all - to take their first lead, 29-28. The Mountaineers responded with their own 12-4 spurt to take a 40-33 lead with about 13 minutes remaining.
Sacred Heart pulled back within two, but couldn't get over the hump. Mount St. Mary's stretched the lead back to 50-42, and when Beidler hit a free throw with 6:06 remaining, it was a 54-46 advantage.
The Mount St. Mary's bench outscored the Sacred Heart reserves, 42-13...The Mountaineers shot 85.7 percent from the free-throw line, hitting 30 of a whopping 35 attempts; SHU was equally good, making 21-of-24 (87.5 percent), led by Shubik's 11-for-13 night...Hardy had seven points and seven rebounds.
03/13 00:17:39 ET