The weather outside for the first two Beltway Classic basketball tournaments was frightful.
Snow and cold have hampered the event, which was initiated in 1988 for the four college teams around the western and northern loops of Interstate 695.
But when the third tournament convenes tonight at the Towson Center, the weather should be ideal for drawing a crowd and for competition.
"We shouldn't have to fight the weather this time," said Towson State coach Terry Truax, whose team will face the University of Maryland Baltimore County in tonight's 8:30 semifinal. "That's one tradition we don't need to continue."
Longtime rivals Loyola and Mount St. Mary's will clash for the only time this season in the 6:30 p.m. opener.
Until Kevin Booth and Doug John, two of its top three guards, suffered injuries Monday, the Mount seemed to be the team to beat.
Booth has an extremely tender kneecap that will prevent him from running until January, and John has a disk injury in his back that will keep him out for a while. Both are serious outside scoring threats who are likely to be red-shirted.
"We just have to turn the page," said coach Jim Phelan, who will have to depend more on his tall front court for offense. Dan Kalinowski, a 6-foot-11 junior, is likely to start at center, and Phelan is likely to insert 6-3 freshman Dave Kapaona at point guard.
The Mount's misfortune has led to what appears to be a wide-open affair, with Towson boasting the home-court edge, Loyola having improved and UMBC having the additional motivation of playing its first East Coast Conference game when it faces the Tigers.
"I think it's good for us to have a league game this early," said the Retrievers' top gun, forward Derrick Reid. "It'll keep us focused. If we win, we'll be in first place for a little while, and, if we lose, we'll be in last."
No matter how the nightcap goes, it would be difficult to repeat the thrills of last year's tournament meeting between the two teams, when Towson prevailed, 100-97, in double overtime at Mount St. Mary's.
Kurk Lee, now with the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets, had a Classic-record 44 points in that game and went on to become the tournament's Most Valuable Player as Towson took the title.
UMBC won the inaugural Classic at Loyola, with Kenny Reynolds taking MVP honors.
Already this season the Tigers have lost on the road to two top-drawer opponents, Dayton and Maryland, scoring only 15 points in the first half against the Terrapins Tuesday night.
"My 3-year-old daughter [Anne] has an [imaginary] friend named Leo, and I asked her where he was after the game," quipped Truax. "She told me he left 10 minutes into the first half."
Towson is still in a learning stage with a young team, "and the competition so far has something to do with our record," said Truax.
UMBC is the only team in the field coming off a victory, a 75-73 decision over Howard on Reid's 19-footer just before the final buzzer. The Retrievers squandered a 21-point lead in the second half.
"With the young team we have, winning gave us some momentum," said coach Earl Hawkins. "They know that their play will get rewarded and they listen a lot better."
The Retrievers have three seniors, but no juniors, and one of the seniors, guard Bobby Mills, is hurt, leaving the leadership burden on Reid and Jim Frantz, 6-10.
"But, basically, all the guys know what each other is doing," said Reid. "We played a lot together during the summer."
Loyola never has won a Beltway Classic game, but that could change with guards Kevin Green and Tracy Bergan sparking a club that seems to have found itself during an eight-game European tour this summer.
The Greyhounds have the added incentive of nine straight losses to the Mount, including 63-53 last year.
Beltway Classic history
1989 at Mount St. Mary's Semifinals
Towson 100, UMBC 97, 2 OT
Mount St. Mary's 63, Loyola 53
Third place UMBC 95, Loyola 84
Towson 81, Mount St. Mary's 68
at Loyola Semifinals
UMBC 84, Mount St. Mary's 81, OT
Towson State 88, Loyola 79
Third place Mount St. Mary's 81, Loyola 60
UMBC 87, Towson State 81
When: Tonight and tomorrow.
Where: Towson Center.
Schedule: Tonight: Mount St. Mary's (0-2) vs. Loyola (1-1), 6:30; UMBC (1-1) vs. Towson State (0-2), 8:30. Tomorrow: Semifinal losers, 6:30 p.m.; semifinal winners, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: Available at the four competing schools; $5 for reserved seats, $4 for general admission and $2 for students of the schools.