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Mount St. Mary's advances to semis Beats St. Francis in overtime, 81-78


EMMITSBURG -- The students were on spring break, and most of the adults were fearful of snow-slick roads last night.

So, only 950 spectators showed up to watch Mount St. Mary's ride a roller coaster in the first Northeast Conference tournament game at Knott Arena.

The trip ended on the upside for the third-seeded Mountaineers, who overcame poor free-throw shooting, the loss of senior leader Kevin Booth in the stretch and the squandering of an eight-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation.

They came back in overtime to defeat St. Francis, N.Y., 81-78, and advanced to the NEC semifinals tomorrow night. Mount St. Mary's (13-14) will meet second-seeded Wagner, which ousted Monmouth, 75-66.

As a result, the Mount will return to the site of coach Jim Phelan's 700th victory against an opponent that just defeated them in Emmitsburg on Saturday in the regular-season finale, 77-70.

"We match up pretty well with Wagner except for the big man [Miladin Mutavdzic]," Phelan said.

The Mount almost missed the return to Staten Island.

They played almost impassively on defense in the first half and trailed throughout, closing to 44-39 with a surprising six-point boost from freshman Jeff Balistrere, who has struggled with his offense all season.

"It was the first playoff game, and we were a little tight," Booth said. "But we got settled down."

With more intense defense and three straight three-pointers (two by Chris McGuthrie, one by Booth) to start the second half, Mount St. Mary's took control of the second half. St. Francis (9-18) fell behind by as many as nine points as the Mount consistently beat the Terriers' pressure, Anthony Carr scored inside at key times and McGuthrie and Booth directed traffic.

But Booth fouled out with 16 points and seven rebounds with 3:08 remaining, and the Terriers caught up within two minutes, tying at 72.

Sefton Robinson, Booth's replacement, made a 15-footer to give the Mount its final lead in regulation, but Abdua Torrence hit a pull-up jumper to tie the score again at 74.

Michael Watson stepped up for the Mountaineers with 17 points and eight rebounds, none bigger than the basket he scored on a McGuthrie feed to start the overtime. St. Francis never led again.

Two free throws by Watson with 1:21 remaining put it away for Mount St. Mary's. Neither team scored thereafter, Watson rejecting two big shots before fouling out 27 seconds from the finish.

The defeat halted a three-game St. Francis winning streak at Knott Arena and gave the Mount a victorious home record for the season (7-6).

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