Jim Phelan became the fourth coach in college basketball history to win 800 games as Mount St. Mary's earned him his second trip to the NCAA tournament.
The sixth-seeded Mounties (15-14) beat Central Connecticut State 72-56 Monday night in the Northeast Conference tournament championship game. Phelan's 45th season at the small Catholic school in Maryland will end in the NCAA tournament.
Phelan joined Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Clarence "Big House" Gaines in the exclusive 800-win club. He and his famed bow tie got there with some solid defense as the Mounties held the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (19-13) to one field goal over the final eight minutes and to 29 percent shooting (20-for-68) for the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Mount St. Mary's players and some fans fell into a huge pile at midcourt, while Phelan, who will turn 70 later this month, slowly walked over to the Central Connecticut State bench to shake hands with coach Howie Dickenman and the players.
Phelan, who has a career record of 800-442, was presented the game ball before he and his team accepted their awards and cut down the nets at the Spiro Sports Center at Wagner College.
"It was a championship game. That overshadowed my achievement," he said.
Gregory Harris led Mount St. Mary's, whose only other NCAA appearance was in 1995, with 20 points. Eric Bethel added 16 and freshman center Melvin Whitaker had 10 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots in a foul-plagued 25 minutes.
Charron Watson had 21 points for Central Connecticut State, which enjoyed its first winning season since moving to Division I in 1986. CCSU also completed one of the best turnarounds in NCAA history after going 4-22 last season.
Watson's layup with 8:03 left brought the Blue Devils within 52-51. But that's when the Mounties tuned up the defense, allowing only Rick Mickens' rebound basket with 5:10 left and three free throws.
Harris' third 3-pointer of the game with 6:56 left gave the Mounties a 57-51 lead and his dunk with 4:37 left made it 59-53. Whitaker's dunk on a fast break made it 63-53 with 1:36 left and sewed up Phelan's historic win and the school's berth in the field of 64.
Whitaker, who served two years in jail for slashing a University of Virginia football player with a box-cutter during a recruiting visit there, had three fouls in the first half and picked up his fourth with 11:12 to play. Phelan put him back in the game with 4:19 left and he came up with two field goals and three more blocked shots.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed