Whitaker gets off to slow return Loyola overwhelms Mount in 1st game back

December 20, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Roderick Platt remembered the last game he played against Melvin Whitaker Jr. It was when they were both high school seniors at prep schools in Virginia, Platt at Hargrave Military and Whitaker at Oak Hill. Whitaker admitted he couldn't remember Platt.

"He kind of got the best of me," recalled Platt, now a senior at Loyola College. "But I've kind of developed a little bit."

The difference of where the two players have spent the intervening years was played out yesterday afternoon at Reitz Arena. With Whitaker's first college game as the backdrop, Platt and the Greyhounds dominated Mount St. Mary's, 72-60.

Platt scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the first half to go along with 10 rebounds, and junior forward Blanchard Hurd (Milford Mill) scored 12 of his 17 in the second half, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.

"We knew they were going to go inside. we just didn't anticipate Hurd and Platt hurting us, but they did," said Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan, whose team didn't help its cause by shooting pTC 33 percent for the game, including a dreadful 1-for-26 on threes.

What didn't surprise Phelan was that Whitaker looked pretty much like someone who hadn't played competitively in three years after spending 26 months in jail on a malicious wounding charge.

Except for the first time he touched the ball two seconds after entering the game -- catching an inbounds lob pass and converting a 3-footer in the lane with 10: 14 left in the first half -- Whitaker appeared out of sync with his new teammates as well as with the fast pace of the play.

The 6-foot-10 center from Raleigh, who has still yet to practice,

played 10 minutes and finished with two points, one turnover and no rebounds. He blocked two shots but was credited for neither because the ball was in the hand of the shooter. Whitaker also committed four fouls, the first three coming in a span of less than two minutes in the first half.

"That's probably the toughest thing to do," Whitaker said about playing his first game with only the benefit of yesterday's morning walk-through to familiarize himself. "Everyone was yelling and saying things and I didn't know what they were talking about."

If Whitaker's confusion was apparent, so was Loyola's game plan. Even before Whitaker and Newton Gayle entered the game -- Gayle, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, was also playing in his first game this year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery -- the ball was going inside to the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Platt and the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Hurd.

"We wanted to make sure that if he [Whitaker] was going to play, we wanted to go right at him," said Loyola coach Dino Gaudio.

Whitaker's only basket had given Mount St. Mary's (4-5) its biggest lead at 19-14, but a three-point shot by freshman reserve guard Anthony Walker started Loyola (5-3) on a 22-8 run the rest of the half.

Leading at halftime, 36-27, the Greyhounds scored the first six points of the second half to build their lead to 15. Starting with a three-point play by senior center Konata Springer (Towson Catholic), the Mountaineers closed to within three, 46-43, with 13: 34 to play, whose team was then outscored 20-4.

"I thought we were there," said Phelan.

What Phelan couldn't figure on was junior guard Greg Harris coming out of his shooting funk. Harris, a 41 percent shooter coming into the game, made just four of 21 shots he took yesterday. He was 0-for-6 on three-pointers and all four of his baskets were either dunks or layups.

Gaudio credited senior guard Jason Rowe for shutting down Harris.

"Any good defense starts with the point guard," said Gaudio. "I thought Jason did a very good job on him."

Rowe's biggest motivation was not quieting Harris, but the vocal contingent of Mount St. Mary's fans who made up a large portion of the disappointing crowd of 1,585 who came to watch the 153rd meeting between Maryland's two oldest college basketball rivals.

"That's one of the first things I said to my teammates coming out," said Rowe, who finished with 14 points. "This was pretty much like a road game."

There were a few tasteless remarks directed at Whitaker from the fans, and a little trash-talking on the court in both directions, but this long talked-about debut came off without incident.

By the time Whitaker plays again, Dec. 30 at Georgia Tech, he'll have practiced as many as nine times with the rest of the team.

"I don't figure it being that much of a grind, that much of a struggle, once we get on the same page," he said.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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