Neal has 28

Towson falters

Despite strong debut, Tigers blow big lead

VMI 80 Towson 78

College Basketball


Eighteen months after making a scandalous exit from La Salle, Gary Neal had a record-tying but hollow debut for Towson, which blew a 17-point lead in an 80-78 home loss to VMI last night.

Neal made his first five shots and tied a Towson record with six three-pointers. The junior transfer had team highs of 28 points and eight assists, but it all went for naught as VMI scored on 17 of its last 18 possessions.

"Offense wasn't a problem," Neal said. "Defense, talking and communicating with my teammates at that end, was a little bit of a struggle."

A 6-foot-4, 210-pound wing from Aberdeen who played his final high school season at Calvert Hall, Neal was La Salle's top scorer in his two seasons there. In the summer of 2004, he was charged with rape and dismissed from that university.

Neal was acquitted on Nov. 4, and first practiced with Towson on Dec. 5. He'll immediately bridge a portion of the talent gap they face in the Colonial Athletic Association, but the Tigers and Neal ran out of gas last night.

A crowd of 1,406 watched Neal. Unfortunately, so did his teammates, who stopped playing after he poured in 14 points in his first 5:24 on the floor.

The Tigers (3-5) haven't won on the road since a 15-point victory at VMI on Dec. 11, 2004. That was before the Keydets (5-4) added Chavis and Travis Holmes, freshman twins who backed forward Reggie Williams, who had 27 points.

Chavis Holmes had 15 and his brother Travis chipped in nine off the bench for the Keydets, who had 10 of their 16 offensive rebounds in the second half. VMI has won five straight for the first time in nine seasons, and three of those wins came against non-Division I schools.

"This one really hurts," Towson coach Pat Kennedy said. "You hate losing before you go home for the holiday. To have the lead we had in the first half and shoot 73.9 percent in the second, and still lose is mind-boggling."

The Tigers had a 10-6 lead when Neal entered with 14:42 remaining. Thirty-seven seconds later, he had a foot on the three-point line as he made a line-drive jumper from the right side. Neal then made sure he was behind the arc as he dropped in four straight three-pointers in less than three minutes.

The last came from NBA distance and put the Tigers ahead 28-11.

Playing in a college game for the first time since March 2004, Neal displayed some rust, as he was late rotating in assorted zones and had a pair of turnovers during an 18-4 run by the Keydets. He did not score a basket in the last15 minutes.

"It was difficult," said Neal, of his forced time away from the game. "The guys I played against in ABCD [summer] camp and AAU, you see them on TV. I used the time out as a learning experience."

Senior forward Lawrence Hamm, who was honored before the game for scoring his 1,000th career point, had 21 points and 12 rebounds for Towson, which had to use a smaller than usual lineup in the first half, when center Dennard Abraham went out with a sprained thumb.

It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers, who play Syracuse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday.

VMI - Mankevicius 4-4 4-5 12, Murrer 6-11 3-3 16, Williams 10-19 4-5 27, C.Holmes 4-11 5-5 15, Castleberry 0-2 0-0 0, Bell 0-2 1-2 1, Robinson 0-2 0-0 0, Christiansen 0-0 0-0 0, Beverly 0-0 0-0 0, T.Holmes 4-12 0-1 9, McCargo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-63 17-21 80. TOWSON - Pratt 0-4 0-0 0, Hamm 8-10 5-6 21, Abraham 3-3 1-5 7, Crossin 5-9 0-0 14, Coleman 2-5 0-0 4, Tubbs 1-2 0-2 2, Raboin 1-2 0-0 2, Plack 0-1 0-0 0, Neal 10-18 2-2 28. Totals 30-54 8-15 78. Halftime-Towson, 34-32. 3-point goals-VMI 7-29 (Williams 3-8, C.Holmes 2-7, Murrer 1-4, T.Holmes 1-7, Castleberry 0-1, Robinson 0-2), Towson 10-26 (Neal 6-13, Crossin 4-8, Raboin 0-1, Coleman 0-1, Pratt 0-3). Fouled out-Mankevicius. Rebounds-VMI 32 (Murrer 11), Towson 32 (Hamm 12). Assists-VMI 20 (C.Holmes 7), Towson 23 (Neal 8). Total fouls-VMI 16, Towson 18. A-1,406.

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