FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Jim Phelan must be smiling.
Mount St. Mary's is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the coaching great handed the program over to his assistant, Milan Brown, five years ago.
Jean Cajou and Kelly Beidler scored 15 each and the Mountaineers beat Sacred Heart 68-55 Wednesday in the Northeast Conference championship game.
"In the back of my mind, I knew that bringing a championship home would definitely be great for me," said Brown, an assistant to Phelan the last time the Mount went to the NCAA Tournament in 1999. "But it's going to put a smirk on his face, too, even though I know he was so nervous that he didn't watch the game."
Phelan won 830 games in 49 years at Mount St. Mary's.
Jeremy Goode added 13 and Shawn Atupem 12 for the fourth-seeded Mountaineers, who have won eight of nine, including one over top-seeded Robert Morris in the semifinals.
Mount St. Mary's students held up signs urging their team to "Win for Dustin" and began chanting "Dustin Bauer" as the game wound down. Bauer, a senior at the school, was placed on life support after injuring his head in a fall from the first-floor landing of a residence hall early Sunday morning.
"If he was healthy, he would have been here," said senior guard Chris Vann, a close friend of Bauer's. "He was one of the 'Mount Maniacs' at the school. We did it for him, but we did it for us as well. It felt like he was the sixth man on the court."
Brice Brooks had 18 points and Drew Shubik had 13 to lead Sacred Heart, which cut a nine-point deficit to 57-55 with just more than three minutes left.
But Beidler hit a basket that stretched the lead back to four, and Shubik threw the ball into the hands of Mount St. Mary's Markus Mitchell on the other end. Mount St. Mary's scored 11 straight to end the game, most of those from the free-throw line.
The Mountaineers held the Pioneers to 29 percent shooting, including 2-of-19 from 3-point range.
"We consider ourselves the No. 1 defensive team in the conference and I believe this, right here, proved it," Beidler said. "We played at their gym, everyone was thinking that they're going to win and we came in and shocked everybody."