Towson's goal: keep Delaware silent

2-time conference champ Blue Hens, and 5,000 fans, stand up against Tigers

America East men

March 04, 2000|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

A season of broken Towson University basketball dreams has left much pain on the faces of Damon Cason and Brian Barber.

Cason, a senior guard from Southern (Baltimore), said he would like to "erase time" and start his Towson career over while Barber, a junior forward from Annapolis, prefers to focus on the "here and now" and wait for the Tigers to arrive as legitimate winners.

It's not surprising that the more emotional Cason thinks often about what might have been while the always stoic Barber accepts the hand he has been dealt and moves forward.

But tomorrow night at the Carpenter Center in Newark, Del., Cason and Barber will both be on the same page when the Tigers face two-time defending America East champion Delaware on its home court in front of a fanatical following of 5,000 fans who seem to live for postseason tournament play.

Talk about a team's worst nightmare. That is what many consider tonight's 8: 15 matchup for the sixth-seeded Tigers (11-16, 7-11 conference) against the third-seeded Blue Hens (22-6, 14-4) in the America East quarterfinals, with the tournament winner advancing to the 64-team NCAA field. Towson could have avoided Delaware if the Tigers had won three of the five league games they let slip away in the final minutes this season.

The Blue Hens just seem to have too many weapons for Towson, and they proved it Feb. 19 at the Towson Center by rallying from nine points down with 3: 20 left to win, 80-74. That was the night the Tigers were apparently headed for an 8-8 league record and 12-12 overall mark before Delaware unleashed a furious full-court press to steal the game.

The 6-foot-6 Barber, who averages 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds to lead the Tigers, scored a game-high 27 points in that Delaware setback.

The former Annapolis High standout was named yesterday to the second-team America East all-conference squad.

Towson coach Mike Jaskulski said after that setback, "Say a prayer for our psyche." For certain, the Tigers have not been the same since, losing three straight and posting a 1-7 record in February.

"We're down now after two tough losses [Hartford in overtime and Vermont] on the road last week," said Cason, who averages 8.7 points, 4.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds. "But we know we can play with Delaware. We just have to ignore the crowd. Heck, they had more fans here at Towson cheering for them than we had, and we could have beaten them."

But the fact remains that Delaware now has the luxury of having the America East tournament played on its home court seven consecutive years, with the league announcing last week that the Blue Hens will be the host for the opening round, quarterfinals and semifinals through 2002. The championship game is always played on the home court of the higher-seeded team.

Jaskulski is seething over the two extra years at Delaware.

"Never in the history of the NCAA has the same on-campus site been used by a conference seven straight years for its tournament," he said. "How can I phrase this? Perhaps we [America East] think we're wiser than everybody else in the country, and I'm saying that sarcastically."

The Blue Hens are rolling along on a six-game winning streak after some early-season bumps in the road because of several injuries. Delaware can strike from the outside with three-point sharpshooters Kestutis Marciulionis and John Gordon, or they can shove the ball inside to 6-5 senior forward Mike Pegues and 7-1 senior center Ndongo Ndiaye.

Pegues, a DeMatha graduate, was the America East Player of the Year last season and he is averaging 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds this season.

America East men

When: Yesterday-tomorrow

Where: Carpenter Center, Newark, Del.

TV: None

Radio: Towson games on WTMD (89.7 FM)

Defending champion: Delaware

Favorite: Delaware. The third-seeded Blue Hens (22-6, 14-4 conference) almost have a free pass through the quarterfinals and the semifinals with 5,000 fans cheering their every move. And they could play the championship game at home if top-seeded Hofstra and second-seeded Maine fail to make it to the title game. Delaware is not only the two-time defending champion, it also has seven seniors.

Dark horse: Drexel. The fifth-seeded Dragons (12-16, 9-9) have slipped behind Delaware as a perennial league power after winning three straight America East championships from 1994 to '96, but the Philadelphia school can still strike fear in foes with 6-foot-7 forward Mike Kouzer.

MVP candidate: Make that candidates. Delaware's Mike Pegues is the No. 2 scorer (20.4 a game) in the league behind Hofstra's Craig Claxton (23.2). If Pegues' Blue Hens should win the title that would most likely make him Most Valuable Player. But Claxton has so much talent that he could go on a tear, which would make it impossible to ignore him for that honor.

Pub Date: 3/04/00

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