Ex-UMBC star Mulligan finds a different March today with Manhattan

While his former school deals with turmoil, junior forward and Jaspers revel in NCAAs

Ncaa Regional East Rutherford

March 20, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - Peter Mulligan thinks of what might have happened had he decided to remain at UMBC for the last two years of his college basketball career rather than transfer back home to Manhattan College.

"We could have done something special," said Mulligan, who left around the same time as two UMBC teammates, Ronald Yates and Will McClurkin, after the Retrievers went 20-9 in 2001-02.

As his former team finds itself in turmoil after last week's forced resignation of longtime coach Tom Sullivan amid allegations that he verbally abused his players, Mulligan's career is reaching new heights with the Jaspers.

On Thursday, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior forward from New York City scored 17 points in 12th-seeded Manhattan's 75-60 upset victory over No. 5 seed Florida in the opening round of the NCAA tournament at RBC Center.

Today, Mulligan and his teammates will try to topple another nationally recognized program, fourth-seeded Wake Forest, with a chance to return to the New York metropolitan area to play in the Sweet 16 at the East Rutherford Regional.

With an early layup that seemed to put Florida back on its heels from the start, Mulligan set the tone for what turned out to be the first NCAA tournament victory for the Jaspers since 1995.

It was a continuation of his recent play. Mulligan has averaged 13.1 points during a stretch in which the Jaspers have won 10 of 11 (and 13 of 14 overall).

"If you look back to that run, I think there's been a direct link to Peter Mulligan and his production offensively and his stats, how he's played and how aggressive he's been," Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez said yesterday. "He lifted us up [Thursday]. He's emotional about it. That's how he's been the last month of the season."

The performance against Florida was the ninth time in the past 11 games that Mulligan has scored in double figures, and it came against the kind of marquee program that the former New York State Mr. Basketball only dreamed about coming out of St. Raymond's High School.

Because of his in-between size and blue-collar style, Mulligan didn't attract the big-name programs for which he had hoped to play. While he had an immediate impact at UMBC, averaging 15.5 points on an 18-11 team as a freshman, there was an undercurrent of unhappiness that continued into his sophomore year.

Mullgan has nothing but praise publicly for Sullivan, saying yesterday: "He's a good coach; he looks out for his players." But Mulligan admitted that some of the problems that surfaced recently were glossed over a couple of years ago because the Retrievers were winning.

"Winning takes care of a lot of things," said Mulligan, who averaged 16.0 points as a sophomore.

In the end, it wasn't enough to keep Mulligan from coming to Manhattan, Yates to Saint Peter's and McClurkin to Marist. When they saw each other during the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season, they talked about how lucky they were to leave.

"I just got a message from Eugene Young," Mulligan said of the lone member of their class who stayed at UMBC. "He was really excited. He congratulated me and told me to keep it up. He told me I to keep representing well."

Mulligan has become an important part of the Manhattan program. His decision to transfer to the Bronx school was a factor in sophomore point guard Jason Wingate's choice of schools. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, once living on the same street.

"Peter plays with a big heart," said Wingate. "He brings a lot of things to the court. He always brings the team up."

The two often send a message to each other, with one saying "Harlem" and the other nodding in agreement.

It was that New York toughness that was evident against the Gators. At one point in the second half, Mulligan saw a lapse in Florida's zone defense, drove the lane and scored. He immediately picked up a loose ball lost by Gators forward Matt Walsh, and scored again, to stretch the lead to 14 and silence any chance of a comeback.

As he running back downcourt, Mulligan pointed to one of his biceps and stared at Walsh.

"I was saying, `We're here, we the kings of New York until somebody dethrones us,'" said Mulligan.

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