EMMITSBURG -- By winning last night at Knott Arena, Mount St. Mary's shortened its basketball schedule.
An 81-70 Northeast Conference victory over last-place Robert Morris guaranteed the Mountaineers a bye in the first round of the league tournament by virtue of no worse than a sixth-place regular-season finish.
That means they will bypass the bracket play-in games Tuesday and advance to the quarterfinals next Friday, likely at Rider.
Mount St. Mary's (13-12, 9-8) didn't have an easy time against the Colonials, who are winless in 13 road games and were already assured of finishing 10th.
"We struggle at home and win easier on the road," said Mount coach Jim Phelan after his seventh straight conquest of Robert Morris (3-22, 2-15). "I don't know what it is.
"But their coach [Jim Boone] is doing a heck of a job of keeping them playing hard. We were not smooth at all, but maybe that's attributable to them."
The Colonials still had a shot with 1: 35 remaining before three free throws by Gregory Harris and two by Silas Cheung sealed the Mount's eighth win in the past 10 games.
But the real turning point came on the final play of the first half after Robert Morris had scored three straight baskets to pull to within 33-31.
Javier Smith intercepted a Mount pass in Robert Morris' defensive end and was trying to beat the clock by getting the ball upcourt quickly for a tying basket.
But Irv Conwell intercepted the ball right back, then hit a three-point prayer while falling to the floor on his back. The Mount went up by five at the break.
"My man broke away and he had to throw it over me," said Conwell. "Actually, I was hoping to get a foul on that play, too."
A freshman from Columbia who led the state's high school players in scoring last season, Conwell poured in a career-high 24 points and added seven rebounds, four steals and two assists.
"We got a very good game out of Irv," said Phelan. "Maybe he's coming back to his high school form. He had an adjustment to make. He thought this was going to be just as easy as high school and it's not. There are a lot of big bodies in there."
Pub Date: 2/21/97