Towson lets upset slip away

Hofstra 64 Towson 60

January 28, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Home court, quality opponent, close loss.

That combination is getting old for Towson, which had a Colonial Athletic Association upset of Hofstra in its grasp yesterday, but coughed up a 64-60 loss at the Towson Center.

"We should have won," guard Gary Neal said. "We had an eight-point lead with 10 minutes left, at home."

In the past two weeks, the Tigers (10-11, 4-6) had taken care of business down Charles Street, at Loyola, and beaten a pair of bottom feeders in the CAA. To get over .500 this late in the season for the first time since 1996, however, Towson had to end a disturbing trend.

Since beating Vermont, which is in the top 100 of the Rating Percentage Index, the Tigers have faced four other name opponents at the Towson Center. They didn't compete against George Mason but failed to finish off Temple, Virginia Commonwealth and now Hofstra.

"We don't exhibit the experience you need at the end to close it up," coach Pat Kennedy said. "Look at a team like Hofstra. That group has been together for four years."

Hofstra (16-5, 9-1) won its ninth straight game decided by five points or fewer, a touch that has meant one loss since Christmas for the Pride.

The game featured the top three scorers in the CAA and a defensive chess match that centered on Neal, who had a game-high 29 points to push his conference-leading average to 25.9.

"Chaos," Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said, describing an effort that at times blended elements of a match-up zone and a box-and-one.

It reached a crescendo on the Tigers' last possession that counted. Down 63-60, Neal missed a long, covered three-pointer on the left side with 15 seconds left. He got the ball back, drew a double team in the left corner and threw a skip pass to Jonathan Pease in the right corner.

The junior forward couldn't get down a wide-open look that would have forced overtime with six ticks left.

Hofstra controlled the rebound and got a clinching free throw that washed away some of the pain of last season's loss at the Towson Center, which might have been the deciding factor in the Pride's not getting an at-large bid to the 2006 NCAA tournament.

Towson squandered an early 11-3 lead by going more than eight minutes without a basket, but Neal made his first four shots of the second half, and a 9-0 run gave the Tigers a 45-37 lead with 10:40 to go.

A series of exchanges that were brutal to the Tigers followed. Point guard C.C. Williams juked his defender to the floor but missed an open jumper, which Antoine Agudio compounded with a three-point play.

Neal's pull-up jumper over 6-foot-9 Chris Gadley gave Towson its final lead, 54-53, with 4:47 remaining, but Loren Stokes proceeded to show why he is the Towson senior's main rival for Player of the Year in the CAA.

Stokes put the Pride ahead to stay with a three over Neal on the left side, then stole a lazy pass by Neal and converted it into what turned out to be the winning basket with 1:23 left.

Stokes had 25 points, but Towson did a decent job on Agudio, the other half of one of just two 20-point average combinations in the nation.

Fouls hurt, but not as much as Towson's inability to make shots. Neal (11-for-18) extended to six games a stretch in which he has made better than 50 percent of his attempts, but his teammates were a combined 9-for-34.

"A few more threes, and we're in position to win the game," said Kennedy, who pointed to what came before Pease's final attempt from outside the arc. "It's not just the last one. We only made 21 percent [three of 14]."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

HOFSTRA-Sestokas 1-2 0-0 2, Stokes 8-17 8-8 25, Agudio 4-15 4-5 13, Rivera 4-8 1-3 12, Urbutis 0-2 0-0 0, G.Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Davis-Sabb 0-1 0-0 0, Gadley 4-7 4-6 12. Totals 21-52 17-22 64. TOWSON-Breaux 0-2 3-4 3, Abraham 4-12 2-4 10, Pease 1-4 2-2 5, Williams 3-9 4-4 11, Neal 11-18 6-7 29, Crossin 0-2 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0, Spruill 0-1 0-1 0, Tubbs 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 20-52 17-22 60. Half-Towson, 28-27. 3-point goals-Hofstra 5-14 (Rivera 3-6, Stokes 1-3, Agudio 1-4, Sestokas 0-1), Towson 3-14 (Pease 1-3, Williams 1-3, Neal 1-5, Crossin 0-1, Abraham 0-1, Spruill 0-1). Fouled out-Abraham. Rebounds-Hofstra 37 (Gadley 11), Towson 31 (Breaux, Pease 7). Assists-Hofstra 8 (Rivera 4), Towson 13 (Pease 4). Total fouls-Hofstra 16, Towson 21. A-2,091.

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