3 of 4 in 'Battle' were big-gun fodder Only Loyola has win

rivals enter at 0-5

November 19, 1998|By Christian Ewell NTC | Christian Ewell NTC,SUN STAFF

Three of the four teams involved in tonight's "Battle of Baltimore" enter limping, some of them literally.

Morgan State, UMBC and Towson approach the tournament at the Towson Center with a combined record of 0-5 after getting pasted in games against bigger schools. Loyola, however, saunters in with a 1-0 record.

But all of the schools consider the Channel 2-televised event an overdue opportunity to get the area's teams on the same court.

"It's a long time coming for this to happen, and I'm glad that it's happening," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan, whose Retrievers open the tournament against Loyola, coached by Dino Gaudio.

"We want to play because I enjoy being around Dino," said Sullivan. "The worst thing that's going to happen is that my team will lose the game."

Against Morgan State, Towson (0-1) will be slowed because its top player, Torin Ragin, is out, but will be looking to rebound after a 93-48 loss in the season opener at Creighton. The Bears (0-2) are suffering from fatigue after trips to James Madison and Marquette.

UMBC (0-2) will be licking its wounds after 28-point losses to Pittsburgh and Maryland, trying to start the healing process in the first game of the tournament against Loyola at 7 p.m.

Given the Greyhounds' winning record -- they beat Howard, 96-81, on Saturday at Reitz Arena -- they appear to be the favorite. On a team led by point guard Jason Rowe, Loyola's main strength seems to be balance. At least four of its players have scored in double figures in each of its two exhibition games and the opener.

However, Gaudio worries about his team's consistency. "We played well in spurts [against Howard]," he said. "What we've talked a lot about was sustaining that effort for a full 40 minutes. We're not going to be able to beat the teams we have to play Thursday if we're playing in spurts."

The Greyhounds' backcourt of Rowe and Jamal Hunter is fine, and the frontcourt of Blanchard Hurd and Roderick Platt will provide a challenge for UMBC.

While the Retrievers are still looking for definite answers at center, their experienced forwards, Isaac Green and Kennedy Okafor, were part of a team that defeated Loyola on the road last season.

So far, Green and Okafor, the Big South's freshmen of the year in UMBC's last two years before moving to the Northeast Conference, have looked decent. So has center Nick Grella, who started the season as a question mark, but had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss to Pitt.

"One of the things that scares me most is that though we're bigger than them, height-wise," Gaudio said, "they have an incredibly strong front line. Those are big, powerful kids."

Sullivan, whose team begins conference play next week against Mount St. Mary's, was philosophical about the Retrievers' tough early schedule and the switch from playing schools from the Big East and ACC to playing those from the MAAC, America East and MEAC.

"Some people like to climb mountains," Sullivan said. "Some people like to fly airplanes. We like to play basketball games. Sometimes, the opponents are good and sometimes they're not so good, so we play them anyway."

Morgan and Towson, who meet at 9 p.m., also must feel this way.

The Bears (0-2), who won nine of their last 12 games last season on the way to a third-place finish in the MEAC, began this season back in the guaranteed-money-game mode.

Though Arizona was mercifully absent from Morgan's schedule, it still meant blowout losses for coach Chris Fuller's team, which fell to James Madison by 24 in Harrisonburg, Va., last Friday, then by 34 to Marquette in Milwaukee.

And whereas Omaha is usually a desired destination for college baseball teams, Towson was ambushed there last weekend. Meanwhile, its best player, Ragin, a transfer from Wyoming, is gone until January with an ankle stress fracture.

With injuries to guard Damon Cason (hip) and forward Guy Zenou (foot) limiting their minutes, the Tigers are stretched thin, forcing coach Mike Jaskulski to turn to such players as freshman forward Shaun Holtz more than he might otherwise.

Jaskulski said the team's reaction to the challenge, not the challenge itself, should determine how Towson performs, not only this weekend. but also for the future.

"Every team has things like this happen. It's not unusual," Jaskulski said. "Usually, how your season turns out depends on how you weather periods like that."

Battle of Baltimore

At Towson Center

Semifinals: Today

UMBC vs. Loyola,

7 p.m.

Towson vs. Morgan

State, 9 p.m. approx.

TV: Ch. 2, both games

Saturday

Consolation, 5: 30 p.m.

Championship, 8: 05 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2, championship

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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