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Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian talks about his team's loss to Central Connecticut. (Tom Worgo / Carroll County Times)

The Mount St. Mary's men's basketball team could play Central Connecticut for a third time this season if they meet in the Northeast Conference tournament.

But Mountaineers coach Jamion Christian would probably be OK with not having to face the Blue Devils again.

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Central Connecticut shocked first-place Mount St. Mary's 54-52 on Saturday at Knott Arena to end the Mountaineers' eight-game winning streak.

The win allowed the Blue Devils to escape the basement in the 10-team league, and it was only their fifth victory in 23 games.

"No matter what their record has been over the last few years, it has always been a tough game," said Christian, whose team beat Central Connecticut by nine points in early January. "Maybe a little bit of maturity and poise punched us in the face today. I don't think our team gave our best effort."

The Blue Devils only led for 1:17 in the game and they overcame a 15-point deficit from early in the second half.

Central Connecticut had three players in double figures — senior guard Khalen Cumberlander (14 points), sophomore guard Austin Nehls (12), and senior forward Tafari Whittingham (11).

"We have come back in a lot of games, but they haven't been able to finish games before," said Central Connecticut coach Donyell Marshall, a former star player in the NBA and at UConn. "But the last couple of games, they are starting seeing they are better than our record. They know they have to get stops, and we made them take a lot of tough shots late."

Mount St. Mary's (12-13, 10-2 NEC) made only two of its last nine shots, and scored just five points in the last seven minutes.

The Mountaineers shot only 35.1 percent (20-for-57) from the field overall.

Mount St. Mary's led 43-28 with 14:15 remaining in the second half, but Central Connecticut (5-18, 3-9) used a 12-2 run over the next six minutes to make it 45-40.

With 3:22 remaining, the Mountaineers led 49-43 after Miles Wilson's dunk. Not much, however, went right for Mount St. Mary's the rest of the way.

The Blue Devils took the lead 50-49 for the first time on Austin Nehls' 3-pointer with 1:13 left.

Four consecutive free throws — including the last two by Nehls — increased the advantage to 54-49 with 23 seconds remaining.

Eleven seconds later, Greg Alexander drained a 3-pointer to cut the margin to 54-52.

After a Central Connecticut turnover, Mount St. Mary's missed two shots.

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Mount St. Mary's was given one more chance when Cumberlander missed a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds to go, but Chris Wray's desperation half-court shot right before the buzzer sounded bounced off the back of the rim.

"We are going to take this loss and learn from it," said Long, who led his team with 10 points. "It's not the end the world. We are working for a championship and not a great record."

The Mountaineers, who led 31-28 at halftime, started fast in the second half with a 12-0 run to push their lead to 43-28 in first 5:45.

Mount St. Mary's capitalized on Central Connecticut struggles. The Blue Devils missed its first six shots and committed a pair of turnovers in that span. That prompted Marshall to call a time out soon after his team's dreadful start, and it seemed to get his team headed in the right direction.

Mount St. Mary's also played well to start the first half, jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the first 2:24 as Junior Robinson scored five points.

Central Connecticut had three turnovers and the Blue Devils missed their first four shots before guard Cumberlander scored 3:50 into play on a dunk.

It seemed to spark Central Connecticut after its slow start. The Blue Devils outscored the hosts, 6-3, over the next 1:30.

The Mountaineers took advantage of an intentional foul on Cumberlander with 14:24 remaining when Long sank a pair of free throws to put his team ahead 14-6.

About two minutes later, Mount St. Mary's led 19-11 before the visitors went on a 5-0 run to trim the lead to five points.

Central Connecticut cut the margin to 19-17 on Tidell Pierre's free throw.

The Blue Devils, who shot 38.5 percent (12-for-27) in the first half, also trailed by two points, 25-23, with five minutes remaining.

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