EMMITSBURG -- One last game in limbo.
That's the order for Mount St. Mary's tomorrow night (7:30), when the Mountaineers complete a long and unfulfilling season with a game against St. Francis, Pa. For the Mount, it will mark the end of the three-year waiting period the NCAA requires of new members to Division I before they can compete in postseason play.
It's an era that coach Jim Phelan won't count as one of the high points in his 37-year tenure here. The 1971-72 team that went 6-17 is the only one he's coached that recorded fewer wins than this year's group.
Mount St. Mary's was routed by Robert Morris 90-66 last night, and it was hard to tell whether Phelan was joking when he said HTC "we're playing out the season." It was the fifth straight loss for the Mountaineers, who dropped to 8-19 overall and 6-9 in the Northeast Conference, whose tournament they will finally be eligible for next season.
The visiting Colonials (17-11, 12-4) were the ones who had every right to go through the motions. They had represented the Northeast Conference in the last two NCAA tournaments, but were banned from postseason play this season for violations centering on payment of Andre Boyd's tuition during his freshman year in 1986-87.
They appealed the penalty all the way to Common Pleas Court in Pittsburgh yesterday, when a request for an injunction to allow Robert Morris to compete in postseason play was denied.
Boyd, a senior from Walbrook High, had 24 points, giving him 1,204 for his career. He had eight in the first seven minutes of the second half, when Robert Morris began to pull away to a 29-point lead and many in the crowd of 2,375 left. Scott Murphy's 26 was the lone bright spot for the Mount.
Boyd was an irritant to the Mount all night, as Kevin Booth didn't take kindly to a last-minute foul Boyd committed, and the two had to be separated in the hallway outside the dressing rooms.
Booth, a junior guard who led the Mountaineers in scoring last season, has been in civvies since Nov. 26, when he dislocated a kneecap five minutes into the second game. In rapid order, the Mount lost sophomore guard Doug John, sophomore forward Anthony Carr and several other big men to assorted ailments, a rash of injuries the like of which Phelan had never seen.
Booth and John were deliberate about their recuperation, and will receive medical redshirts. There was no use in rushing back for a season that was shaping up as a lost cause anyway.
"Not being able to go to the postseason, that's annoying, it's hurt some," Phelan said. "This year has been a disaster from the start. Better days are coming."
The Mountaineers started at 1-8, but a 5-2 stretch that began before the New Year provided false hope. They since have gone 2-8, a span that has included a drop in scoring from Alex Watson and John Miller, two seniors from Mount St. Joseph High who have scored more than 1,000 career points. They had five and one, respectively, last night.
Those two and three other seniors deigned to make last night's game Senior Night, since their classmates begin spring break today and won't be around for tomorrow night's finale. The seniors will get one more chance, even if it is in limbo.