STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The Mount St. Mary's dream of playing in its first Northeast Conference championship vanished in a fit of Wagner defense last night.
The second-seeded Seahawks were behind by nine points early in the second half, but rationed Mount St. Mary's to two field goals in the final 10 minutes and pulled away to a 65-48 semifinal victory before a roaring crowd of 1,409 at Sutter Gymnasium.
There were no excuses for the third-seeded Mountaineers (13-15), who were held under 50 points for the first time this season.
Mount St. Mary's was still in the game with 3:47 to play after Chris McGuthrie sank two free throws for a 53-48 deficit. But the Mount went 0-for-8 from the floor and committed three turnovers the rest of the way while Wagner stretched to the deceiving final margin by prospering at the foul line.
"They worked hard and wore us down a little bit," said Mountaineers coach Jim Phelan. "They just stepped it up and we couldn't score."
McGuthrie and Kevin Booth, the crux of the Mount offense, got no open shots in the stretch as every attempt was challenged and double teamed by excellent team defense.
Fresh faces constantly showed up guarding the two Mount backcourt men as Wagner capitalized again on the lift it has been getting in recent weeks from its bench.
"It makes a big difference when 10 people play instead of five or six," said Seahawks coach Tim Capstraw. "The emergence of the subs is something that has evolved in the past couple of weeks."
Wagner's backup help was particularly instrumental in a 77-70 victory at Mount St. Mary's a week earlier that gave the Seahawks the higher seed and the home court for last night's game.
Despite the Mount's 6-3 NEC road record, that might have been the most important development of all.
"If we had had this game in Emmitsburg, it might have been a different story," said Phelan. "It would have been a lot nicer just sitting at home waiting for it."
With some assistance from Matt Meakin, who entered to neutralize All-NEC center Miladin Mutavdzic, the Mount overcame a sluggish start and pulled into a 25-23 halftime lead on a three-pointer by Booth.
Dave Nanni started the second half with a trey and the Mountaineers eventually built a 35-26 cushion on a three-pointer by McGuthrie behind a screen.
They were still tied at 44 with 5:41 left in the game when Lamont Street stuck a trey after missing three straight shots on the same sequence as Wagner cleaned the offensive boards.
Two more long-range hits by Milan Rikic and Bobby Hopson put Wagner (18-11) in command, and the tight defense did the rest.
"They just outplayed us in the second half," said Booth. "They got the rebounds, rotated different guys on me and made us extend our offense farther out than we wanted.
"They were just stronger by being at home."
All-NEC guard Hopson carried the attack with 15 second-half points until his teammates got hot.
"We couldn't be too disappointed," said Phelan. "We had an up-and-down season, but overall you can't help but be pleased with what we've done after being picked ninth."