WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. -- Kia Williams' 24 points, 20 of them in the second half, powered Mount St. Mary's (20-8) into the semifinals of the Northeast Conference women's basketball tournament for an 11th consecutive year with a 69-52 triumph over Fairleigh Dickinson last night at Monmouth University's Boylan Gymnasium.
It was the second-seeded Mountaineers' second victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in a week and sent them 45 miles across New Jersey for a 6 p.m. game today with sixth-seed Wagner at Trenton's Sovereign Bank Arena. Wagner defeated No. 3 seed Sacred Heart, 59-56, in last night's other quarterfinal.
"My first half was terrible," said Williams, a 6-foot junior All-NEC first team selection, "but I knew I had to step up in the second half and did."
Deanna Butters' 15-point performance was the major ingredient in the Mount's 29-26 halftime lead, but she picked up her fourth personal just 3: 04 into the second half and didn't come back until the final four minutes.
"That's been happening to me all year," Butters said of her foul trouble. "I'm just glad my teammates were able to take over in the second half."
Williams more than took up the second-half slack with 8-for-9 shooting and 3-for-3 from the line.
FDU's Marie Patrick tied it at 33 with a layup and free throw 2: 26 into the second half, but Vera Feldbusch followed with a go-ahead basket just 17 seconds later and the Mount began pulling away.
The Mount later went on a 16-0 spree in a 4: 13 stretch to erase any doubts.
The Mountaineers were the preseason NEC coaches' poll choice but remain NEC tournament underdogs to top-seed St. Francis, Pa. (21-7), the four-time defending NEC titlist, which breezed past Robert Morris, 89-71, in an afternoon semifinal.
The Mount has beaten Wagner, today's foe, twice this season, by 70-67 and 70-58.
It was the Mount's third conquest of FDU this winter and the most convincing. It won 63-50 in Hackensack, N.J., Jan. 6 and 81-69 at Emmitsburg last Saturday.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Mount coach Vanessa Blair. "Nobody likes losing to the same team three straight times. FDU was fired up. But we just wore them down."
Butters wound up with 21 points; she and Williams pulled down 10 rebounds apiece.
"Our pressure gave them a lot of trouble," said FDU junior Karen Tiedemann of Fallston. "But we didn't respond when they got ahead, in the second half, and then it kind of snowballed."
Sixth-seed Wagner's win was the day's lone upset. Host and fifth-seed Monmouth rallied from 16 down to take fourth-seed Long Island into overtime but bowed, 78-69.