EMMITSBURG — A daytime snowstorm limited the attendance for Saturday afternoon's Fairleigh Dickinson-Mount St. Mary's game to a high school-like 674 brave supporters inside Knott Arena.
Without much crowd noise to get them going, the Mountaineers had to manufacture their own energy against a team tied for last in the Northeast Conference.
They did so from the outset, rattling the rim with dunks, blocking shots, crashing the boards and burying 3-pointers en route to an easy, 75-64 win in what could easily have been a trap game.
"I really challenged them at the beginning of the game to bring our energy and enthusiasm," MSM coach Jamion Christian said. "These snow days, I've played in a few of them before and coached in a few of them, they can be tough days for your group in terms of just creating energy. Their enthusiasm was just through the roof. That's a credit to our team."
Sophomore guard Byron Ashe tied a career high with 24 points and junior forward Gregory Graves had 15 points and 13 rebounds as the Mountaineers (14-13, 10-6 NEC) won their third straight to move over .500 overall for the first time this season.
They did so by hitting 10 of 23 from 3-point range, outrebounding the Knights (7-20, 2-14) by a 43-25 margin and mixing in five dunks early in the game to get going inside a mostly empty arena.
"Whether the crowd is here or not, we've still got to play the game," Graves said. "We just feed off each other's energy."
No one more so than Ashe, who simply continued a stretch of outstanding play. His 24-point effort came two days after scoring 23 against LIU Brooklyn and a week after scoring 24 for the first time in his career, against Bryant.
"I'm just trying to be consistent," Ashe said. "That's on and off the floor. Coach preaches to me, be consistent every day, in everything you do. When I do that I think we have a good chance to win most of our games."
Ashe made seven of his 12 field goal attempts Saturday, going 5 for 7 from long range as well as hitting 5 of 6 foul shots. He also had five assists, four steals and a block.
"When you recruit good players, they can take 12 shots and score 24 points," Christian said.
Ashe and Graves got plenty of help. Will Miller came off the bench to score 12 points, Kristijan Krajina had 10 points, four boards and two blocks, and guard Khalid Nwandu had seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
The Mountaineers finished with 19 offensive rebounds and had nine blocked shots.
"We've got a lot of big guys," Graves said. "It's going to be more tough. It's not going to be as much finesse now."
The Mount got out to a 19-12 lead midway through the first half looking a little like Phi Slamma Jamma. Graves threw down an alley-oop dunk, Krajina drove for a jam and got another on a nice feed, Ashe had a follow dunk, and Taylor Danaher also slammed one home. And that was all in the first 11 minutes.
When Miller and Ashe buried 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, the Mountaineers were up 25-17 with six minutes left in the half and the offense just kept coming from there. They ended the half on an 11-4 run to lead 38-24 at the intermission.
After the Knights scored the first two buckets of the second half to pull within 10 points, Ashe and Miller hit two more 3-pointers to get the lead back to 14 points and a pair of Ashe free throws gave MSM its biggest lead at 46-30. That advantage expanded to 65-45 on an Ashe follow with 8:20 to play.
That was actually the Mountaineers' final field goal, as they eased off the pedal from there and Fairleigh Dickinson used a 13-1 run to make it an eight-point game with 1:33 to go, but the victory was never in doubt despite allowing the Knights to make 11 of 21 from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers have two regular-season games remaining before attempting to defend their NEC Tournament title. Christian challenged them to play their best the rest of the way earlier in the week, and after cruising to wins on Thursday and Saturday, they're halfway there.
"We want to be the best team in the league over the last four games. It's a shortened season in our minds," he said. "We're going to use that as a way to continue to stay locked in to whatever opponent we have. ... Are we executing to the best of our ability? Are we improving every day? If we're doing those things, we're going to be able to go into the playoffs with enough momentum to carry it all the way through."