EMMITSBURG -- It was picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll of Northeast Conference coaches, but Mount St. Mary's put itself in good position to gain second last night.
The Mountaineers trailed virtually the entire game against Monmouth, then rallied behind their sensational freshman, Chris McGuthrie, when it counted most and notched a 71-66 victory that guaranteed them a winning regular-season record in the league.
McGuthrie was on the bench for 3 1/2 minutes after banging and bruising his left knee midway through the second half. When he returned, he was on fire.
With the Mount (12-13, 10-7) behind 53-47, the point guard scored 14 of his team's next 16 points, resulting in a 63-60 lead.
Six free throws and an uncontested dunk by Michael Watson put it away for Mount St. Mary's, which can clinch the second seed in the NEC tournament by beating second-place Wagner at home tomorrow night.
"They kind of motivated me," McGuthrie said of Monmouth (10-15, 7-10). "They were playing rough and started saying things to me. Before that, I really didn't feel the motivation was there. Then, things just started happening."
McGuthrie, the No. 2 scorer in the league, took a shot in the mouth from Monmouth's 7-foot, 225-pound center Steve Wriedt early in the game while driving the lane and spent most of the first half looking for setups rather than his own shot.
The Mountaineers' Matthew Meakin played a key role in the turnaround, holding Wriedt to two points in the second half and providing McGuthrie with two screens outside that led to a driving layup and a three-pointer.
That energized McGuthrie, and he followed with another three-pointer from the corner on a designed play, a jumper and a follow spot during the spree that overcame the Hawks.
"It just didn't look like Chris was trying to do a lot in the first half," said Mount coach Jim Phelan. "He was handing it off a lot. But when he came back after going down, he got the feeling and knocked down everything."
Kevin Booth (17 points), Phil Galvin (13 points) and Watson (12 points, 11 rebounds) kept Mount St. Mary's within striking distance until McGuthrie started blazing.
The Mount has clinched a quarterfinal NEC tournament game at Knott Arena March 4, and should they win the regular-season finale, they will be certain of having a home-court advantage for the semifinals March 6 if they survive the tournament opener.
For Monmouth, it was the seventh loss in the last 10 games.