Mount tops Monmouth; Whitaker out for season; Phelan makes returns; win keeps tourney hopes alive


EMMITSBURG -- Jim Phelan returned to the bench and Melvin Whitaker remains confined to the sidelines.

Those were the major outgrowths last night at Knott Center where Mount St. Mary's stayed alive in its bid to make the Northeast Conference tournament field with 64-56 victory over Monmouth before 1,210 fans.

The Mount's venerable coach came back after a four-game absence during which assistant Don Anderson coached the team to a 2-2 record. Phelan, age 70 and in his 46th season, was idled by a bout with pneumonia that raised the total of games he has missed during his tenure to six.

But the coach was still uncomfortable for a different reason.

"I tore my rotator cuff playing tennis a month or so ago and it's hard to lift my right arm," he said. Phelan is also bothered by pain in the right hand he used the break a fall in the incident and remains on antibiotics to clear his lungs.

Conversely, Whitaker -- who was expected to lead the Mount in its defense of the league title -- will see no action this season after a visit to the doctor this week.

The 6-foot-10 center fractured his right ankle in practice Nov. 8 and the initial diagnosis indicated he could return in late January or sometime this month. There were hopes Whitaker might be available for the tournament in early March.

All that optimism was dashed when a doctor said the three-inch crack in his right ankle bone has not healed quickly enough to allow him to play at this time.

"It's just a setback. I've got another appointment in three weeks and I hope to be cleared," said Whitaker. "Right now, I'm just on the bench cheerleading."

Phelan wasn't optimistic.

"He can walk and swim, but no jumping or lifting weights," said Phelan. "It doesn't make any sense to attempt anything with him. He's not playing any more this year."

Whitaker is eligible to take a red-shirt year,but said "nothing is definite. That has not even been talked about. I'm just trying to keep up with academics."

Meanwhile, the Mount (8-18, 7-10) enhanced its chances to make the eight-team tournament lineup when all-league guard Gregory Harris put on a command performance at the start of the second half.

Trailing 33-29, Mount St. Mary's shut down Monmouth's offense by double-teaming post man Kevin Owens, and Harris took care of the scoring. While the Hawks went 0-for-7 from the floor and committed three turnovers, Harris scored 13 of the Mount's 20 consecutive points and assisted on two other baskets.

Long Island U. was eliminated from the NEC tourney by losing last night, but Wagner stayed alive by beating league-leading Central Connecticut State. That leaves the Mount in the position of having to win tomorrow or needing a Wagner defeat to Quinnipiac or a UMBC loss to Monmouth to make the field.

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