Nearly half a century later, Phelan’s game still remembered

Note: This is the third in a series of profiles of 2019 Saint Francis University Hall of Fame inductees. The induction ceremony is scheduled for July 26:

LORETTO — It’s been 42 years and six months, or more specifically 15,524 days since DeGol Arena witnessed its greatest individual performance in its 47-year existence when senior Jack Phelan treated all fans in attendance to an arena-record 42 points in a win over a talented Duquesne team featuring Norm Nixon on Jan. 14, 1977.

Phelan dazzled the crowd with a complete performance that included a record 20 made field goals. Both records of 42 points and 20 made field goals still stand to this day.

“That was the best individual performance I ever witnessed in DeGol Arena by a Saint Francis player or an opponent,” said former Saint Francis head coach Pete Lonergan. “What was so special about it was he did it all within the framework of the offense. Jack had a unique ability to let the game come to him. He was so unselfish and our offense flowed through him. On that particular night everything went his way. He scored from inside, he scored from the outside and he scored from the free throw line.”

Phelan’s nemesis that night was Nixon, a future first round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers who went on to enjoy a 12-year NBA career that featured two All-Star selections and two NBA Championships.

“Jack and Norm were matched up that night and Jack was excited for the challenge,” said Lonergan. “The thing about it was it wasn’t just about Jack and Norm. Duquesne had a really good team that year that went to the NCAA Tournament, so for Jack, it was all about finding a way to get us the win.”

Phelan did just that. With the game in the balance, Duquesne’s head coach Mike Rice was issued a technical foul and Phelan converted two pivotal free throws to round out his historic night and lead St. Francis to an 89-85 win.

“I’ll always remember the buzz in DeGol Arena that nigh,” Lonergan continued. “Former Saint Francis golf coach Bob Hahn was sitting in the first row right on the railing and every time Jack made a basket he would go bananas. It was just a fun night.”

Phelan and his teammates weren’t finished. Three weeks later they defeated UNC-Charlottte 96-87 in what Lonergan called the best team performance during all his years as a head coach. Charlotte would end up making a run to the NCAA Final Four that same season behind the play of senior Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, the number 12 overall pick of the 1977 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics and a two-time NBA champion and the 1981 NBA Finals MVP.

Phelan also head his name called in the 1977 NBA Draft, selected by the Golden State Warriors in the sixth round with the 126th overall pick.

When his NBA career didn’t materialize, Phelan earned a tryout as a defensive back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite not playing in a football game since his sophomore year of high school in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Taylor Powers works for Saint Francis University.

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