It has been pointed out to me that my last two pieces about the Towson basketball team had references to food and eating. I looked at them again and sure enough, they did. One referenced a team saying of ‘everyone eats when we win’ and the other one mentioned Coach Pat Skerry theoretically enjoying his Thanksgiving meal after the successful trip to the Comfort Suites Invitational in Kentucky the preceding weekend.
So in keeping with what I promise will not be a season long theme here we go. The Tigers were served a slice of humble pie on Monday night by way of a 65-53 loss to Loyola University in Reitz arena. Ouch, did I really just write that?
Ok, final corny food reference for the season out of the way and onto the decisive victory by the Greyhounds in what Loyola Coach Jimmy Patsos has dubbed, “the Battle of York Road” Towson came into the game with a 3-2 record and on a mini two-game winning streak. They had just had three days off for the Thanksgiving break and had to feel good about what they had accomplished during the first two weeks of the season. After all, they had tripled the total wins achieved by last year’s squad. The trio of Bilal Dixon, Jerrelle Benimon and Mike Burwell along with promising freshman guard Jerome Hariston was showing off the balanced depth of all the newcomers on this year’s squad.
Towson lost to two solid teams in the College of Charleston, which has already, has beaten Baylor and Boston College and Eastern Kentucky, which is 5-0 on the season. Therefore, there was a reason to feel good about Towson’s chance coming into the Loyola game.
However, with all due respect to the above opponents, Loyola returned four starters from an MAAC Championship team that played in the NCAA tournament last season. With second leading scorer and leading rebounder Eric Etherly sitting out with a dislocated shoulder, Loyola showed enough depth to not miss a beat. The Tigers are still figuring out how to play as a unit and who fills what roles. While the talent is obviously in place, it has yet to mesh for a full forty minutes, not surpringly.
I could spend several paragraphs citing all the stats that led to last night’s outcome. However, by now anyone that is interested in those has found them and would quickly surmise that Towson was out played in every aspect of the game. Instead, I will focus on what does not show up in the box score. Towson as is its trademark under Skerry played very hard and played hard to the final buzzer. However, they were playing against a team that is frankly a better than them right now. Dylan Cormier, Robert –Big Shot Bobby-Olson and Anthony Winbrush, led Loyola. Combined they have 12 years of experience for the Greyhounds.
The Greyhounds opened up with a full court press and constant pressure on the Tigers; it seemed to catch them off guard. “We watched a lot of tape on them, and they hadn’t been pressured at all bringing the ball up the court by anyone, so we were pretty sure they wouldn’t be expecting it,” explained Olson when asked about the Greyhounds opening strategy. While the Greyhounds did not press the entire game, they did apply enough constant pressure to force Towson into 15 turnovers, which Loyola turned into 17 points, compared to just seven points for Towson off seven Loyola turnovers. Skerry commented what he saw, “We were not very sharp offensively tonight, it was like we were running in sand, which a good experienced club is going to make it look like, so hat’s off to them.”
So turning back away from the stat story and to the eye test, this game showed a couple things. Loyola will no doubt challenge Manhattan for the MAAC Championship again and the spot in the NCAA Tournament. For now they are the unofficial Kings of Baltimore College Basketball, with Towson, UMBC, Morgan St. and Coppin St. all fighting for their respective spots in the area pecking order.
Towson has taken great strides in closing the gap between itself and Loyola, a fact not lost on Patsos. “I’ve known Pat for a long time and he’s a great coach. We have a lot in common, we both took over 1-win teams, “Patos said. “I just told him to keep in mind, it’s all steps. He is doing a great job over there. I am impressed with those inside guys, Benimon’s good. We were just a little deeper than them.”
That is where the story of Towson’s season will probably be told, the inside players and its depth. Benimon and Dixon have shown glimpses of being able to play at a high level. Skerry has regularly played nine players, with two of them being true freshman. So, it’s a matter of how long it takes the talent and depth to gel and perform consistently.
Outside shooting is the other crucial area that remains lacking in the Tigers offense. Mike Burwell and Kris Walden and Marcus Damas can all get hot from the outside and score points in a hurry, but none of them has shown a consistent outside shot to date. Which brings us back to Big Shot Bobby Olson as Pastos affectionately calls him. Olson converted on five of nine three pointers last night to tally his entire 15 points. Having a threat like that from the outside would open up a lot more opportunities for Benimon and Dixon inside.
In the meantime, the Tigers will have four days to go to continue to work on their offensive sets and outside shooting before they face UMBC on Saturday night. It will be a chance for them to show where they stand in the local area basketball hierarchy.