Winning in a Big East Conference gym last year, when it beat St. John's, was sweet.
The upset of West Virginia of the Atlantic 10 on Monday was another pleasant development.
Towson State has done plenty to improve its stock in the East and across the nation, but last night it needed to make a statement closer to home. It did so, albeit in bizarre fashion, as the Tigers ran away from Loyola with an 18-0 spurt at the end of the first half, then went the last eight minutes without a field goal and held on for a 73-66 victory before 2,049 at the Towson Center.
It was the Tigers' ninth win over the Greyhounds in their past 11 meetings, but as Towson State coach Terry Truax approached the nonconference rivalry, he said "the last three things between Loyola and Towson State went their way."
First, Loyola beat Towson State in their annual meeting a year ago. Then Towson State's bids to the NCAA tournament in 1990 and '91 began to fade from memory last March when Loyola upset its way to its first NCAA Division I bid. The third blow came last month, when the Greyhounds got a commitment from Blanchard Hurd, a 6-foot-6 forward from Milford Mill whom the Tigers also were recruiting.
"Last year, they had the right to say they were best on Charles Street," said Stevie Thomas, the Walbrook High product who is Towson State's top inside player. "This year, we want to keep that distinction up here."
Towson State (3-2) had beaten Mount St. Mary's and West Virginia on late three-pointers by Ralph Bla- lock, but it didn't appear the Tigers would require any of his late heroics with 10 minutes to go, when they had a 21-point lead.
DeRon Robinson's 18-footer from the right side had Towson State on top 64-44 with 8:14 remaining, but the Tigers didn't make another field goal. Truax said his young team lost its direction, but Loyola first-year coach Brian Ellerbe saw it differently.
"They [Towson State] didn't go cold," Ellerbe said. "We just started to play defense. We didn't contest a single shot in the first half. Not a one."
Towson State's 20th consecutive win at the Towson Center was achieved in the first half, when it made 57.1 percent (20 of 35) of its field-goal attempts.
Loyola's improved defense caused the Tigers to miss their last nine shots and allowed the Greyhounds to go on a 13-0 run that made Truax sweat.
Both Darius Johnson's three-pointer with 1:08 to go and John McDonald's jumper with 29 seconds left cut the difference to three points, but Quintin Moody answered both times with free throws, preserving Towson State's balanced effort.
Robinson had a career-high 15 points, and Michael Keyes, another sophomore reserve guard, had 11. Blalock had 13, freshman forward Ryan Lexer 10, and Thomas had nine points, (( 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Loyola (2-3), which went with a three-guard lineup in the second half after a lackadaisical first half in which it grabbed only one offensive rebound, got 19 points and eight rebounds from senior forward B. J. Pendleton, and 15 points from Johnson.
"We were playing a zone that gave them some wide-open threes," Thomas said. "We were entirely too relaxed in the second half, but that first half was the best we've come out in my three years here."
The Tigers bolted to leads of 8-0 and 24-11, but Thomas got his second foul and went to the bench with 7:32 to go in the half, and Loyola promptly went on a 10-2 run to cut the lead to 29-27.
Robinson scored 10 points as Towson State ran off 18 in a row to pad its cushion all the way to 47-27. The run ended when Blalock hit a pull-up jumper from the right side with 54 seconds left in the half.
Towson State lost its offensive focus early in the second half, but it still had several leads of 21 points, the last on Lexer's basket with 9:40 left, which made it 62-41.