EMMITSBURG -- Beating a team three times in the same season is always difficult, especially when that team is on a roll entering the final meeting.
Mount St. Mary's (16-12 and the No. 2 seed) will visit top seed and defending NEC champion Rider tomorrow at noon for the nationally televised (ESPN) final.
The victory wasn't easily gained. The Mountaineers played without starters Matt Meakin (broken hand) and Jeff Balistrere (sprained ankle), leaving the bench practically bare.
And Marist (17-11) applied a lot of heat after being outgunned and outplayed during a first half when it fell behind, 41-29.
In fact, the Red Foxes -- who won 14 of their last 18 games -- twice took the lead, the last occasion at 68-67 with four minutes to play.
But Silas Cheung, one of the reserves pressed into starting duty, connected on a three-pointer and the Mounts never trailed again.
"We almost let it get away," said Mount coach Jim Phelan. "But a couple of unlikely guys [Cheung and Randy Edney] came through for us at the finish."
Edney made a crucial basket against All-NEC center Alan Tomidy after the Red Foxes had got to within 72-70 and the Mountaineers sealed the decision by hitting 10 of 12 free-throw attempts in the final 1:40.
"We passed our character check," said Marist coach Dave McGarity, referring to his team's strong comeback. "I just think we ran into a team that wasn't going to be denied. If we're at home, it's probably a different story."
Both teams compiled 12-6 records in the conference, but the Mount got the home court by beating Marist twice.
Riley Inge bounced back from a bad shooting night against Long Island U. in the quarterfinals to sink 11 of 14 attempts and pace the Mount with 28 points.
"We were without two starters, so it's not the time to sink back," said Inge. "And one of the guys in there [Mike Brown] is a freshman who tends to get over-anxious.
"We all had to pull ourselves together and add more."
Inge said he wasn't surprised when Marist launched its big run because the two previous meetings were similar.
"We were up nine or 10 in those and they came back. We knew it was coming, but we kept our poise."
Cheung was sensational, scoring 20 points and adding nine rebounds, five assists and six steals. It is the kind of explosion Phelan has been anticipating from the junior guard.
"I expected it to happen. I've been waiting for him to erupt," said Phelan. "When he's feeling right he plays better. He must have felt pretty good today."
Edney pitched in with 11 points and eight rebounds and Chris McGuthrie, the team leader, had a rather quiet 16-point night.