EMMITSBURG -- Their initial reaction was one of extreme disappointment, but Mount St. Mary's players got over it quickly.
Uninvited to the NCAA Division I tournament after being upset in the Northeast Conference tournament semifinals, the Mount nonetheless earned a second straight postseason trip.
Now, they want to make some waves in the school's first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.
The Mount (21-7) visits Illinois State in Normal, Ill., for a first-round game tomorrow at 8: 05 p.m.
"It's real, real good to have an opponent," said point guard Riley Inge. "I was very anti-NIT and completely frustrated by the whole [NCAA] selection process. But now we have something to look forward to again."
"This is another chance to prove ourselves," said center Gerben Van Dorpe. "Everybody had a big letdown after we lost to Rider, because nobody expected it. We had a great season, and it's good that it's going on."
Unlike last March -- when they were seeded 16th and paired off against powerhouse Kentucky in the NCAA -- the Mountaineers have a legitimate shot to score some victories in the NIT.
Owner of a 15-game winning streak before the tourney setback, the Mount already has beaten a higher quality team (Georgia Tech) on the road than any it will face now.
It won't be easy, because every game the Mount plays is likely to be away from Knott Arena, but it is not inconceivable to think of this team at Madison Square Garden for the NIT final four.
"We wanted the NCAA, but we weren't counting on it, only hoping," said guard Silas Cheung. "It seems like a lot of people were upset about some of the teams that made it. But we played a poor game against Rider, and now we can redeem ourselves.
"Right now, we've got a bitter taste," said NEC Player of the Year Chris McGuthrie. "More than anything, you remember your last game, and we don't want to remember that one."
Inge now sees consolation in going to the NIT.
"You see people in the NCAAs who got in just on a lucky break," he said. "I realize now this is just as good because all the NIT teams are invited."
Illinois State at a glance
Site: Normal, Ill.
Coach: Kevin Stallings
Arena: Redbird (10,500 capacity)
Record: 20-11 overall, 13-5 in Missouri Valley Conference
MVC tournament: Beat Northern Iowa, 64-58; lost in semifinals to Tulsa, 69-52.
Probable starting lineup: Forwards, Rico Hill, 6-6 Fr., and Dan Muller, 6-6 Soph.; Center, LeRoy Watkins, 6-7 Soph.; Guards, Maurice Trotter, 6-4 Sr., and Jamar Smiley, 5-11 Soph.
Leading scorers: Trotter (14.6 ppg), Muller (11.0 ppg)
Leading rebounders: Muller (5.3 rpg), Hill (4.8 rpg).
Biggest wins: 74-71 at Tulsa; 77-72 vs. Bradley; 69-64 vs. Tulsa.
Pub Date: 3/12/96