Mount's mark on road bodes well for today COLLEGE BASKETBALL


For those Mount St. Mary's fans seeking positive signs about the team's chances in the Northeast Conference tournament, take heart. They abound.

After squeaking by St. Francis of N.Y., 81-78, in overtime at Knott Arena on Thursday, the third-seeded Mountaineers will carry a lot of ammunition into tonight's 7:30 semifinal against No. 2 Wagner at Sutter Gymnasium on Staten Island, N.Y.

First, this is the only road arena in the conference where Mount St. Mary's has a winning record (3-1). Conversely, Wagner has won three of four meetings in Emmitsburg.

And the location is doubly significant because Sutter was the site of the team's biggest victory this season, a 69-64 decision Jan. 28 that put coach Jim Phelan into the elite 700-win club and the team temporarily into first place in the league.

The triumph was one of six in nine NEC road games -- the best record in the league -- for the Mountaineers, who also have the motivation of coming off a 77-70 loss to Wagner a week ago.

"We know we can beat them," said senior Kevin Booth of the preseason favorite. "We haven't lost to them much since I've been here."

Additionally, Phelan's team showed against St. Francis that it has more weapons than those in the backcourt.

The bench stepped front and center, scoring a season-high 42 points, with forward Michael Watson collecting 17 points and eight rebounds, center Anthony Carr 11 of each and freshman forward Jeff Balistrere notching a career-high 12 points in addition to six rebounds.

For that reason, Phelan is reverting to the lineup that started most of the season, one that includes Balistrere and Carr. He started three guards against St. Francis, a pressing, running team, but Phil Galvin will be on the bench tonight.

Galvin and backup center Matt Meakin could be key figures in this game. When they met earlier at Wagner, Galvin hit a key three-pointer at crunch time, and the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Meakin had season highs of 17 minutes and 10 points.

Against the imposing front line of first-team NEC center Miladin Mutavdzic and forward Milan Rikic, Meakin's wide body could become a necessity.

The survivor of a game that sends its winner to the final Tuesday night on ESPN also could be determined by a battle of the two most productive three-point-shooting backcourts in the league. That means Booth and Chris McGuthrie vs. all-NEC first-team player Bobby Hopson and Wagner's quality point guard, Quincy Lewis.

Both teams hit five of 14 from long range in the quarterfinals.

Wagner has excelled in the stretch run, winning nine of its past 11 games, and has not lost at home since Jan. 30, when first-place Rider won a 71-67 showdown.

If the Mount can end a month-long pattern of winning one, then losing one, and reach .500 for the second time all season, it will be within one victory of its first national tournament appearance since 1987 and its first in Division I.

Regardless, the Mount has traveled a long way for a team picked to finish ninth in the NEC.

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