A basketball matchup made in Baltimore

January 17, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Gerald Brown and Gary Neal insist that it was not about them, that it was Loyola against Towson.

Sure, and you'll want to go to Shaquille O'Neal for free-throw advice and give Gilbert Arenas space off the dribble.

Monday night brought a Halley's Comet game to Reitz Arena, where Loyola and Brown played Towson and Neal. How often do Charles Street rivals who aspire to the title of Baltimore's team revolve around former AAU teammates who returned home after starting their college careers elsewhere and happen to be among the nation's top seven scorers?

"Gerald was wired for this one," Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said. "During warm-ups, I found him sitting on the bench, trying to calm down. `I'm too hyped up,' he said."

Those emotions date to the days when Brown and Neal were the wings on a Baltimore Select team that had Todd Galloway at the point and big men destined for March Madness charm, Carmelo Anthony and Jai Lewis. In the summer of 2001, as 16-year-olds, they reached the semifinals of the AAU nationals in Las Vegas.

"We lost to the Long Island Panthers," Neal said. "They had Charlie Villanueva, Curtis Sumpter, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Francisco Garcia. Want me to go on?"

There being few strangers on an American basketball court in 2007, Brown and Neal did not need film study to note each other's tendencies. They were magnets Monday night, drawn together by the circumstances and their commonalities.

Neal is listed at 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, Brown at 6-4 and 195. Both have three-point range that extends a defense, the handle necessary to beat that pressure and body control that could get them work with Cirque du Soleil if pro basketball doesn't pan out.

These shooting guards take plenty of body shots, as Neal's right hand has been banged up since November and Brown's ailing left knee has had to be drained of fluid, but they have qualities that can't be quantified.

What was Brown doing, guarding Neal, and vice versa? Aren't scorers supposed to get a rest at the other end?

"Gary's not one of those guys who's gonna say, `Give me No. 10, so I can rest,' " Tigers coach Pat Kennedy said. "Against Delaware, we went to a triangle-and-two [defense]. I wanted to put him out top, but he said, `No, let me have the 6-7 kid.' He loves to play those guys. If he could match up against anyone in this game, it would be Gerald."

Ditto for Brown. After Neal hit a third step-back jumper off the dribble, Brown stepped in.

"I wanted Gerald to avoid guarding Gary, try to keep him fresh," Patsos said. "That worked for about four minutes. Gary was shooting right over Marquis Sullivan, and after the second media timeout, Gerald looked over and said, `I'm guarding him.' OK."

What were Brown's keys on Neal?

"I tried to keep Gary from putting the ball on the floor and getting his pullup [jumper]," Brown said. "I wanted to play a physical game, not let him get his feet set to shoot, ride him all the way to the basket."

And how about Neal, when he was checking Brown?

"The first thing I want to do is make sure he doesn't catch the ball," Neal said. "If he does, pressure him, keep my hand up so he doesn't get an open look at his jump shot, then I want to make him dribble into my help. After that, if he's talented enough to make the shot, more power to him."

At the half, 30 of the 65 points had been scored by Neal and Brown. After the break, Brown got blocked by Winstonn Tubbs, but collected the ball and drove the baseline for an elegant up-and-under shot.

Defended by 6-8 Omari Isreal, Neal countered with a three in the left corner, elevating off one foot and somehow getting square to the basket. Another three, this one over Brown, gave Towson a 49-38 lead.

Neal has made 88.3 percent of his free-throw attempts this season. Fouled in traffic, he went to the line as Patsos vainly tried to convince referee Brian Kersey that another Tiger was the shooter. Neal's focus generated heat throughout, as he admonished point guard C.C. Williams for passing to Tubbs on a fast break instead of him. After Sullivan made his fourth three-pointer, Neal told assistant coach Eric Skeeters to remind Tim Crossin to deny him the ball.

Loyola got within four points and Brown stripped Neal, but that only led to the play of the game, as the Towson senior grabbed the loose ball and scored over Isreal and 6-7 Michael Tuck.

Towson's 70-62 win featured Neal's 33 points, the most against Loyola this season. He was 9-for-15 from the field, making him 21-for-34 in his past two games. The Tigers have yet to allow a 30-point scorer this season. Brown got 26, but the junior took 24 shots and was running on fumes, as he made just one of four free-throw tries in the second half.

Neal, who set a Towson record last season with a 26.1 scoring average, improved this season's mark to 25.2, tops in the Colonial Athletic Association. Brown's average is 23.4, best in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

A crowd of 2,842, Loyola's biggest this season, watched the show.

"I'm not crazy right now, because that's the kind of excitement I want here," Patsos said. "That was great for Baltimore. Both of us want to get to the NCAAs. If not, maybe we'll see that again in the NIT."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Brown vs. Neal How Gerald Brown and Gary Neal fared in their matchup:

Brown ....................................Neal

38 ....................Minutes ............35

26 ....................Points ..............33

9-24 ..............Field goals ........9-15

4-10 ............Three-pointers .....2-6

5 ....................Rebounds ............4

1 ........................Steals ................3

3 .......................Assists ................2

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