Towson slides into tournament

Despite 9 straight losses, Jaskulski hasn't lost faith

February 25, 1999|By BILL FREE | BILL FREE,SUN STAFF

Delaware has the hype.

Drexel has tradition.

Hofstra owns a shocking 19-point victory over Georgia Tech.

And Towson?

Ouch!

The string has run out on the Tigers and their losing ways on the eve of the first round of the America East basketball tournament at the University of Delaware.

One more loss and the season is over for a team that seems to have forgotten how to win.

It has been exactly a month since Towson tasted victory.

An anticipated stretch drive to the America East tournament has turned into a nightmarish nine-game losing streak.

The natural inclination is to believe the Tigers (5-21, 4-14) have quit on second-year coach Mike Jaskulski. Teams are supposed to peak for postseason play, but Towson has done the opposite.

When Jaskulski was asked if his players had quit on him, he said, "I don't think so. I know they will play hard in the tournament. I have faith in them."

That faith has been severely tested during the nine-game slide, as Towson has started terribly flat several times and could not recover from huge first-half deficits.

The Tigers have been outscored 875-680 in the first half of games this season. They have fared a lot better in the second halves, being on the short end of a 910-841 margin.

The recent losing streak almost certainly has the ninth-seeded Tigers headed for an early spring vacation since they would have to face top-seeded Delaware in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon if they are fortunate enough to get past eighth-seeded Boston University (9-17, 5-13) in tomorrow night's 7 o'clock first-round game at the Carpenter Center in Newark, Del.

The tournament favorites are Delaware, which is seeking a second straight tournament championship; Drexel, which has played in every America East tournament championship game since joining the league in the 1992-93 season; and Hofstra, which has its highest seed ever in the tournament with a 14-4 record along with the big victories over Georgia Tech and Penn.

Boston University is a dangerous team for many reasons.

The Terriers were a preseason pick to finish third in the America East this season after winning or sharing the league title the past two years. They have beaten Towson twice this season -- by scores of 73-43 and 66-58 -- and they nearly upset Delaware on the road before losing, 80-74.

"We have historically played well in the gym at Delaware," Boston U. coach Dennis Wolff said on Tuesday. "That venue lends to us playing well."

So why did Boston U. finish eighth instead of third?

"The fragile nature of our team was exposed," Wolff said. "We haven't played smartly. When we needed to make plays, we didn't do it."

For Towson, the horrendous regular-season finish has dashed many of the high hopes senior forward Alphonso Hawes and junior guard Pete Mauro had when they transferred to the school from junior colleges.

Hawes was a big-time winner at Southern High in Baltimore, helping the Bulldogs capture back-to-back state titles, and he went on to be part of successful programs at Dixie Junior College (Utah) and Hagerstown Junior College.

In two seasons at Towson, Hawes has watched his team win just 13 of 41.

"I'm from the streets of Baltimore," Hawes said. "I'm used to being aggressive and dishing it out to the other team. But a lot of guys on this team come out and want to make sure they don't let themselves get embarrassed."

Mauro is a street-tested basketball player from Brooklyn, N.Y., by way of Palm Beach (Fla.) Community College and Eastern Utah Junior College. Like many New Yorkers, he takes his basketball seriously.

That is why he dropped off the Towson team for two games in December when "I wasn't happy with my play."

"A few things went wrong off the court for me. I'd rather not say what they were," said Mauro, who led the team in scoring early in the season but is now second (11.2 average) to Brian Barber (12.3). "I'm just happy coach `Jazz' gave me another chance to play."

America East men's tournament

When: Tomorrow through March 6Where: Bob Carpenter Center at University of Delaware, where first round, quarterfinals and semifinals will be held tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Championship game will be played March 6 on court of higher remaining seed.

TV: None

Radio: Towson games on WTMD (89.7 FM)

Defending champion: Delaware

Favorite: Delaware. The top-seeded Blue Hens (22-5, 15-3) have won 10 straight by an average of 15.6 points and they've won 20 of the last 21 at the Carpenter Center.

Dark horse: Maine. The fourth-seeded Black Bears (18-8, 13-5) have made the biggest improvement in the America East after a 4-14 conference record last season, and stunned host Delaware, 70-59, Jan. 22.

MVP candidate: Mike Pegues of Delaware. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound junior from DeMatha led the league in scoring this season with a 22.0 average.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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