Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rising Junior

The Doc and I took the boys to see a local rivalry game featuring Loyola at Towson last night. If I had paid for the tickets, I figured I could deduct the cost because these are Bog Poll eligible teams, but I should still be able to claim the mileage, no?

In the season opener for both teams, Loyola came in as the favorite. The Greyhounds were 18-13 last year and returned four starters, including All-MAAC guard Gerald Brown, who was the eighth leading scorer in the nation last season at 22.2 ppg. Brown came out wearing green socks pulled up to his knees, a great look if you are playing sweeper for Limerick F.C., but I don't see this trend catching on.

Brown transferred to Loyola from Providence and was joined in the starting lineup by Hassan Fofana, a 6-10 transfer from Maryland, and Omari Isreal, a 6-8 transfer from Notre Dame. With so many transfers in his lineup, it's no wonder that Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos was recently praised by Al Gore for his environmentally savvy commitment to recycling.

All the talk about Towson, on the other hand, centered around the question, "What will they do without Gary Neal?" Neal was the fifth leading scorer in the nation last year and is currently playing pro ball in Turkey where he is known as the "American Hedo Turkoglu." Towson coach Pat Kennedy has also gone green in his recruiting, bringing in 6-8 Junior Hairston from College of Charleston, and junior college players Vernon Carr and Tony Durant (who is not making nearly as much money as his little brother, Kevin).

With campuses only four miles apart, there was plenty of spirit from both sides. Several hundred Loyola students turned out in bright green T-shirts and did their best to go Cameron Crazy. Towson countered with its umpteen-time national champion dance team, who not only performed two numbers but also patrolled the lobby, soliciting donations in exchange for 8X10 glossy team photos. Advantage: Towson.

Brown took only ten seconds to jack up a three as the game got underway. He missed but was fouled and made two of three. Towson broke Loyola's fullcourt press easily but Fofana swatted the Tiger's shot and the Greyhounds appeared to be in control. Except that they didn't score a field goal for nearly nine minutes. Kind of reminded me of the Ravens. And the Wizards. And the Orioles. Maybe I should move to Boston.

Not that Towson was blowing it wide open. Most of the Tigers' points came off turnovers, breaking the Loyola press, or on offensive rebounds, but they clearly missed Neal in the halfcourt offense and could only build the lead to 11. By halftime, Loyola had closed to within 2, 31-29.

Loyola took another offensive hiatus to start the second period, and the Tigers stretched the lead to nine as Hairston began to assert himself on offense and defense. Patsos stomped, fumed and sweat through his suit like the Gary Williams protege that he is, and Loyola clawed back and took the lead. And then Hairston really took over. In a five-minute span, he found two teammates for open three-pointers, altered a Loyola layup attempt, grabbed three rebounds, one steal and tossed in two free throws. Towson 59, Loyola 49. The lead grew to 14 and then shrunk to four, but every time Towson needed a boost, Hairston stepped up. Final score 83-69. Final stat line for Hairston: 26 points on 10-15 shooting, 21 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one steal. All together now: Gary Who?

For Loyola, Patsos has to hope this is a wakeup call. His team got outhustled all night. Brown finished 5-13 from the field but did lead his team with five assists and four steals. There were no bright spots for Fofana and Isreal, who combined for six points and eight rebounds. If the Greyhounds are going to compete in the MAAC, they'd better figure out how to beat a 1-3-1 zone.

For the Tigers, the wakeup call goes out to the CAA. Nothing will come easy for visitors to the Towson Center. At 6-8, 205, Hairston is quick in the paint with a nice array of lefty moves. Durant is a solid compliment inside and guards C.C. Williams, Rocky Coleman and Rodney Spruill are quick enough to force more bad decisions than peer pressure. Towson's conference rivals should also note that the Tigers were without Carr and forward Tommy Breaux, who is Hairston minus the offensive skills.

Bottom line for the Bog Poll? Towson in, Loyola out.

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