In January, Mount St. Mary's seemed doomed. The men's basketball team had won four of 12 games, having lost seven straight. The Mountaineers were colder than an Arctic wind whistling through Emmitsburg on a winter night.
This was the team that won 19 games and represented its league in the NCAA tournament last year? Coach Milan Brown gathered the troops for a three-hour summit, where they cleared the air and rebooted their season.
Mount St. Mary's has rallied, winning 15 of 19 to reach the Northeast Conference final at Robert Morris tonight (8:30, ESPN2).
The crux of that midseason confab was no secret, said Jeremy Goode, the Mount's All-NEC junior guard. All the guys had to do was to lighten up.
"Early on, we just felt like there were expectations placed on us to win every game - and when we lost one or two, it bothered us a lot," Goode said. "Individually, we felt pressure, like we'd disappointed people and let the team down."
The players needed to refocus, Brown said.
"What happened was that there was so much talk of repeating as conference champs that we got ahead of ourselves," the coach said. "Players thought, 'If we lose a game in December, it'll hurt our [tournament] seeding in March.'
"When we started taking days one by one, the wins started peeling off."
Mount St. Mary's (19-12) dropped two games this season to Robert Morris (23-10), which has defeated the Mount six consecutive times in the regular season. But this is the playoffs, where the Mount has won three in a row on the road against its rival from Pennsylvania.
Moreover, Mount St. Mary's has won five straight NEC tournament games and is undefeated in NEC championship contests, winning in 1995 and 1999 as well as last year. Should the Mount repeat as NEC tournament champ, it would be the first school to do so since Rider in 1993-94.
"We're going for history here," said Goode, whose 16-point average tops the team in scoring.
The experience of having been thumped by top-seeded North Carolina in last year's NCAA tournament should help his team, Goode said.
"Against [UNC], you learn that you can't rest for even one play. Take a second to breathe and they'll go on an 8-0 run," he said.
"That game was basketball played at its highest level - and it gave us a good glimpse of where we want to be."
Note: : Robert Morris guard Mezie Nwigwe was charged with simple assault after police investigated reports of a weekend fight in Pittsburgh, but the school says the junior from Hyattsville can still play tonight. Nwigwe has been mailed a court summons for a charge of simple assault, a police spokeswoman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
MOUNT ST. MARY'S (19-12)
AT ROBERT MORRIS (23-10)