EMMITSBURG -- This game may be remembered as the one that lifted Mount St. Mary's over the hump.
Considered a dark-horse candidate for the Northeast Conference title when the season began, the Mountaineers had fumbled, stumbled and bumbled since winning their holiday tournament Dec. 28.
But last night, they proved they can stay with the conference's best, knocking Robert Morris out of first place in the NEC with a 72-63 victory at Knott Arena.
"I like to think this is the game that will make us realize we can play with the best teams in this league," said Mount coach Jim Phelan, eight wins short of 700 in his career.
"Our earlier losses here [to league teams] were mistakes. We've got to believe that. This team [Robert Morris] is the first one that shot normally here. They did not wear out the nets."
The Mount never trailed in the second half and attained its biggest lead when freshman Michael Watson executed a reverse dunk on a breakaway to make it 71-57 inside the final minute.
Robert Morris had undermined its cause by missing 10 second-half free throws, two after a technical against the Mountaineers' Kevin Booth.
After a loss by Monmouth on Tuesday night, the Colonials took undisputed possession of the lead in a league that has no clear-cut favorite.
But the Mountaineers made it a short-lived stay, setting the tone early when Phil Galvin, hero of Tuesday's victory over St. Francis (Pa.), made his first three three-point tries, and Jeff Hall followed with one from 22 feet for a 15-9 Mount lead.
"Galvin got them off in both halves," said Robert Morris coach Jarrett Durham. "I thought the Mount played a great game. We didn't play that badly. They just beat us."
The Colonials recovered to take a one-point halftime lead, but Galvin hit a jumper and a three-pointer in the first minute of the second half to regain the lead for the Mount, 34-30. He finished with 24 points, one short of his career high.
Durham chose not to press the Mount until the final four minutes, though Phelan's team has been hindered by turnovers all season.
"They were afraid of Kevin Booth [nine assists, one turnover]," said Phelan. "He has hurt them every time he's played against them."
Durham said: "We're not a pressing team. Only when we get behind do we press a lot. That's not our way to play the game."
So, the Mount went on to a two-game winning streak for the first time in 1992 and continued to play its best against top competition. Three of the Mountaineers' victories have come against teams that were in the 1991 NCAA tournament.
They finished with 14 turnovers, two more than the season low they had in Tuesday's victory over the Red Flash.
"Maybe we're learning how to win," said Phelan.
Robert Morris has won the league title two of the past three seasons, swept the Mount last year and was coming off a 70-45 romp over the same St. Francis (Pa.) team the Mount struggled to beat.
No doubt this one meant a lot.
"I knew this would be a tough game," said Durham. "I don't know why anyone should look past the Mount. This is one of the best home courts in the league. They're tough to beat here.
"Don't be surprised if the Mounts catch fire now. They're a dangerous team."