Mount's game goes outside in Loss of guards McGuthrie, Inge spreads balance around the offense

November 20, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In previous seasons, Silas Cheung could drift around the court, find an open spot while the opponents' attention was directed elsewhere and do his thing -- which was shoot.

He could count on the defense paying a lot of heed to Chris McGuthrie and-or Riley Inge, his fellow guards who knew how to get him the ball when they were double-teamed.

"Most of the time I would just have to stand and they would create shots for me," said the Mount St. Mary's guard, the only senior on this season's roster. "You knew you were going to get the ball where you wanted it.

"Now, we're going to look to get inside more. We have a lot of unproven talent in there and it looks like we'll be well-balanced offensively. I'm not going to need to score 20 points a game."

Nevertheless, coach Jim Phelan, starting his 43rd season at the Mount, will depend heavily on Cheung, a player he spotted on the opposite side while he was recruiting McGuthrie in high school.

"Silas is going to have to provide us with leadership as well as his scoring ability," said Phelan.

No problem, responds Cheung, who is best known for lighting up the scoreboard during the 1995 Northeast Conference tournament won by the Mountaineers, who went on to their first NCAA Division I tournament.

"In the past, Riley and Chris and Jeff Balistrere did all that," he said. "I have to take on more of that role now. But I don't see it as a drastic step because I've been here so long."

There will be considerable leading to do. The Mounts will feature a sophomore (Eric Bethel) and a freshman (Gregory Harris) at point guard, a transfer (Newton Gayle) who has been idle for two years at center and a bench loaded with unknown quantities.

But with an uncommon abundance of bulk and size, Phelan is sounding excited about the prospects for the Mount, which has made two consecutive postseason appearances.

"For the first time in years, we have the substance of an inside game," he said, mentioning holdovers Gerben Van Dorpe and Todd Kessler and newcomers Michael Cook and Gayle.

"Those strong players will enable us to match up with two of the highly rated teams in our league [Monmouth and Wagner]."

Based on preseason polls, the Mountaineers are not seen as threats to repeat their record 16 NEC victories of a season ago, but that is OK with Cheung.

"Last year, we had the best backcourt in the conference and were picked third or fourth," said Cheung. "I thought we proved everybody wrong. That we're picked seventh doesn't bother me. We can prove them wrong again."

Cheung will be in the foreground of the outside shooting corps, which also includes the point guards, small forward Tony Hayden (5.8 ppg) and perhaps 6-7 Yugoslav Rob Balgac, who faces an adjustment to the rough style of American basketball.

With McGuthrie and Inge, the Mounts could count on the quickness they needed to produce the steals (176-131 advantage last season) that offset their rebounding weakness.

But, Cheung excepted, the inexperience in their backcourt will not allow that luxury now. The big guys must bang the boards with authority.

And, can Mount St. Mary's score enough now that the major point producers are gone?

"I'm certainly not going to make the mistake of thinking we're not going to miss the three players we lost," said Phelan. "Over 40 points a game have to be replaced. There are going to be nights with this team when nothing is going in."

That means the ball must be moved to find easier shots closer to the basket.

Cheung sees that as a positive.

"Coach is looking forward to this year because we have a well-rounded team," he said. "Before, teams could defense our perimeter game. Now, if everybody is doing the job, there will be a lot of places to look."

With 18 league games, Mount St. Mary's is somewhat limited in its non-conference schedule. But there are three tough opponents to play in Pennsylvania -- Penn State, Villanova and Pitt -- the annual slugfest at Loyola and Phelan's alma mater, La Salle, for the third straight year.

A lot will hinge on Gayle, who may be the best center at the Mount in decades.

"He is an active, strong rebounder," said Phelan. "I hope some of his style rubs off on Gerben, who needs to be more aggressive in there.

"I find myself anxious to get the ball inside and that is really new. What we do in there will determine what we do."

Mount St. Mary's at a glance

Coach: Jim Phelan (758-400), 43rd season.

Affiliation: Northeast Conference

1995-96 record: 21-8 overall, 16-2 in conference, lost in NIT first round

Radio: WXTR (820 AM)

Arena: Knott Arena (3,196).

Starters lost: Three.

Tickets: General admission, $5; Section 5 reserved, $7; Sections 2 and 12 reserved, $8; Sections 4, 6, 8 and 10 reserved, $10.

Best home game: Monmouth, Jan. 15. The Hawks are NEC favorites for regular-season title.

Best visiting player: Corey Albano, Monmouth, All-NEC forward, perhaps best all-around player in league, leads a star-studded cast of returnees.

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