Towson State's undisputed reign in the East Coast Conference ended yesterday.
The Tigers, for the past two seasons the ECC regular-season and tournament champions, had to settle for a second-place tie after losing to Rider, 79-78, before a crowd of 2,042 at the Towson Center.
Hofstra claimed the top spot in the conference standings and No. 1 seeding in the ECC tournament this weekend with its 103-87 victory at UMBC last night.
The loss was the second straight for Towson (14-13, 9-3), which just a week ago was riding a 10-game winning streak and dreaming of postseason play. With no automatic bid for the ECC tournament champion to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers, at most, can hope to play three more games and finish at 17-13.
"I feel bad for the four seniors, our team and our program because we had a chance to go undefeated at home," said Towson coach Terry Truax, whose team finished at 8-1 in the Towson Center. "You just have to congratulate Rider for their effort and determination."
And also congratulate Rider guard Darrick Suber who scored a career-high 39 points to help the Broncs (15-12, 9-3) end an 11-game losing streak at the Towson Center. Suber, who was the ECC Tournament MVP last year despite playing on the runner-up team, scored his team's final six points in the last 86 seconds.
"Suber is a very seasoned player," Truax said, in admiration. "He's a big-game player."
Which Towson was lacking yesterday, despite 26 points from Terrance Jacobs and 24 from Chuck Lightening. The two combined to shoot just 17 of 41 from the field, and as a team the Tigers shot just 36.8 percent from the field (25 of 68).
And still, Towson had a chance to win the game in the final seconds. After Suber's two free throws with 16 seconds left gave Rider a 79-78 lead, Towson called two timeouts to set up a final play that was designed for Lightening to get the ball around the foul line. But the play broke down, and Terrance Alexander (nine points, four of 13 from the field) wound up forcing up a 17-footer that missed just before the buzzer.
"You don't spend your time during a timeout to get a fall-away jumper off the dribble," Truax said. "We had other options, but for whatever reason we didn't get to them."
While Truax was upset about the loss, he was not surprised. With a week since the Tigers' last game, Truax was unhappy with the way the team prepared for Rider during its four practices last week.
"In eight years, I've never run a team out of practice, but I came dangerously close on Thursday," Truax said. "It's not the will to win that's so significant, it's the will to prepare to win. I don't think this team really knew the will to prepare for this game."
A win would have assured the Tigers of at least a share of first place in the league's regular-season standings.
"Playing for first place, if that doesn't do it for you, what do you have to do?" Truax said. "I hope this will help the team in terms of their approach. The next game is potentially their last."
And Truax is hoping that the possibility of the season ending as soon as Saturday in the first round of the ECC tournament will wake the Tigers up. Towson's last two ECC titles have come on its home floor -- if the Tigers are going to three-peat they will have to do it on someone else's floor (the tournament is at UMBC this year).
"If we're the kind of kids that people give us credit for, then this [loss] will make us hungry," Truax said. "I'd be really surprised if we don't play well."
NOTES: As has been the tradition under Truax, all four Towson seniors (Lightening, Jacobs, Michael Locksley and Myron Ray) started in their last regular-season home game . . . Towson shot 36 free throws, but made just 25 (69.4 percent) . . . Rider F Tim Pennix was ejected from the game in the second half for kicking Jacobs in the head.
RIDER -- Pennix 2-7 0-0 4, Kinsel 2-5 1-1 5, Culmer 2-6 2-2 6, Suber 12-23 13-14 39, Wilcox 3-11 0-0 8, Grim 0-1 0-0 0, Mikola 2-4 2-3 7, Jones 0-1 2 -2 2, Wasko 3-4 2-2 8 Totals 26-62 22-24 79.
TOWSON STATE -- Jacobs 10-21 4-5 26, Lightening 7-20 9-11 24, James 2- 4 1-2 5, Ray 0-1 0-0 0, Alexander 4-13 1-4 9, Caldwell 0-2 4-6 4, Valentine 0-2 2-2 2, Campbell 1-1 2-4 4, Brown 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 25-68 25-36 78.
Halftime--Towson 37, Rider 37. 3-point goals--Rider 5-15 (Suber 2-6, Wilcox 2-7, Mikola 1-2), Towson 3-6 (Jacobs 2-4, Lightening 1-2. Rebounds--Rider 41 (Wasko 7 ), Towson 46 (Jacobs 9). Assists--Rider 16 (Wilcox and Mikola 5), Towson 13 (Lightening 3). Turnovers--Rider 17, Towson 18. Personal fouls--Rider 27, Towson 21. Fouled out--none. Technicals--Towson bench, Pennix. A--2,042.