When Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball trailed St. Francis (Pa.) by seven with 1:14 remaining Feb. 27, guard Damian Chong Qui wasn’t fazed.
In the ensuing 76 seconds, the 5-foot-8, 155-pound Baltimore native took over, as he scored eight of the team’s final 11 points in regulation, including a game-tying three with eight seconds remaining in regulation.
During the overtime period, the Mount outscored St. Francis 9-2 en route to a resilient 72-65 victory. That win was the team’s eighth conference win of the regular season, and had it not been for Chong Qui’s late-game heroics, the team wouldn’t have secured a berth in the Northeast Conference tournament.
“I think on ESPN we had a 1.2 percent chance of winning [down seven],” head coach Dan Engelstad said on Glenn Clark Radio March 10. “If we lose that game we’re not in the conference tournament because our last two regular season games got canceled and we would’ve finished 8-8 and wouldn’t have made it.”
Exactly two weeks later, with a 73-68 road victory against Bryant in the NEC tournament championship, the Mount clinched an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2017. As he has all season, Chong Qui led Mount St. Mary’s with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists to defeat the Bulldogs in the title game.
“He’s small in stature, but his heart is as big as anybody I’ve ever been around. We’re thankful he’s in our program,” Engelstad said of Chong Qui. “He didn’t sub for our playoff run. He was in the game for 40 minutes. We needed him to go on the court to go get the job done and that’s a testament to him.”
Chong Qui has not only embodied toughness and resilience during his time at the Mount, but throughout his whole life. His mother was murdered, while his father was paralyzed from a shooting that’s left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. That toughness has emanated throughout the entire team and has helped him develop into the unquestioned leader of the group.
“He’s got the keys, he is our leader,” Engelstad said. “He is our heartbeat. He knows that, our guys know it. Watching him develop as a leader has been as fulfilling as watching him develop as a basketball player. Any time your hardest worker is also your best player, it gives yourself a real chance.”
Engelstad’s journey at the helm of the Mount began on May 9, 2018 when he was hired as the 22nd coach in program history. At the time he took over, Englestad inherited the youngest team in the country.
However, Engelstad’s coaching career began at Mount St. Mary’s in 2007 as a 22-year-old when he was an assistant coach for four seasons under Milan Brown. In his first year as an assistant, the Mount made the NCAA Tournament and faced off against No. 1 seed North Carolina with several future NBA players including Danny Green, Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough.
Now 14 years later, Engelstad is back in the NCAA Tournament at the place where it all started.
“I had a crazy path to get back to the Mount, but now being head coach, and seeing the euphoria from our guys, it’s really come full circle and now we want to push the bar higher,” Engelstad said.
Now as they await Selection Sunday on March 14 to find out their opponent, Mount St. Mary’s is prepared to face off against some of the nation’s best teams. Earlier this season, the Mount faced off against Navy, Maryland and VCU. While the Mountaineers lost all three of those games, they led Maryland with 8:57 remaining before they were outscored 23-3 the remainder of the game.
ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Mount as a No. 16 seed facing off against NC A&T in one of the play-in games. The winner of that contest would face 26-0 and No. 1 overall seed in the tournament Gonzaga.
“We played high majors and to be honest with you the way our team is kind of comprised we’re built to play those teams,” Engelstad said. “We don’t care who we’re going to play. We’re going to try to win the game. We’re built for high-major games, we’ll play anybody, anywhere and let’s have some fun.”
Regardless of the NCAA Tournament results, Engelstad and the Mount have loftier goals moving forward.
“We don’t want to just get in the tournament, we want to play winning games and that’s what I told our administration,” he said.
For more from Engelstad, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: David Silverman Photography