EMMITSBURG -- Mount St. Mary's was averaging 85 points before last night's game against Monmouth, but as halftime approached, players were concerned whether they would reach a fraction of that amount.
"I kept looking at the clock and said, 'Oh, no, it's going to be the lowest-scoring game ever,' " said Mountaineers guard Scott Murphy, after his team trailed, 19-14, at halftime. "I was just hoping we'd get to at least 20 for the game."
Thanks to Murphy, the Mountaineers (3-8, 1-0) did a lot better than that in their Northeast Conference opener, coming from 10 points down in the second half to defeat Monmouth, 54-51, before a crowd of 1,150 at Knott Arena. Murphy scored a team-high 17 points, hitting five of his nine three-point attempts.
"I go in the game, and the coach just tells me to shoot," Murphy said. "It felt great for them to fall like that."
In that first half, during which only four fouls were called, Murphy was the only Mountaineer with more than one field goal, as his team was frustrated by the match-up-zone played by Monmouth, the preseason conference favorite (8-5, 0-2).
"It was just a case of being too passive," Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan said of a first half during which his team took just 19 shots and didn't attempt a free throw. "We had to attack, and we started penetrating more and then kicked it out."
The Mount did that at the start of the second half but still fell behind 34-24, after Monmouth guard Dave Calloway was fouled while hitting a three-pointer and hit the ensuing free throw. But John Miller (11 points) scored four and Jeff Hall hit a three-pointer for a 7-0 run that pulled Mount St. Mary's within 34-31.
After Monmouth forward Alex Blackwell hit two free throws to increase the Monmouth lead to 36-31, the Mountaineers scored nine straight for a 40-36 lead with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left and never trailed again. Murphy hit two of his three-pointers in the final seven minutes, and the Mountaineers hit six of nine free throws during that span.
"We didn't play with any type of intelligence in the second half," said Monmouth coach Wayne Szoke, after watching his team abandon its patient first-half offense. "Mount's a good team, and they're well-coached. They just played a little more aggressively when it counted."
The Mountaineers were handled easily by Monmouth in two games last season, losing both by an average of 21 points.
"We wanted desperately to beat someone like this because we're not that bad," said Phelan, who will coach his 1,000th game tomorrow night. "We make all of the games close and can never break any open. This gives our guys a mental lift. If the wins don't come, no matter how well you tell the guys they play, it becomes mental."
About the only positive to come out of the first half was a layup by Alex Watson, making him the 30th player in Mount St. Mary's history to score 1,000 points.
For Monmouth, the 14 points allowed was a record low against a Division I opponent. It was the third time the Hawks scored 19 points in the first half this year but the first time they had the lead.
"I can't ever remember scoring 14 points in a half," said Phelan, coaching his 37th year at the Mount. "Not since grade school."