Towson topped despite Neal's 30 points

Senior dazzles crowd, but 7th-seeded Tigers head into CAA tournament on 3-game skid

Drexel 77 Towson 68

February 25, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

Good enough to compete.

Not good enough to seal the deal.

Towson will go into March the same way it entered the season, seeking a distinctive win in the Colonial Athletic Association. That eluded the Tigers one more maddening time yesterday, when they wasted another 30-point game from Gary Neal and fell to Drexel, 77-68.

"I've never had a team have so many of these," coach Pat Kennedy said. "Usually, you look back and say, `Remember that play, remember that shot?' We haven't had a chance to enjoy that as much as we deserve."

The Tigers (14-16) finished 8-10 in the CAA for the second straight year, but went 0-7 against the top four teams and are stuck with their first three-game losing streak of the season, which does not bode well for making a run at the conference tournament in Richmond, Va., next weekend.

Picked to finish seventh in the CAA, the Tigers will take that seed into Friday's 6 p.m. first-round game against UNC Wilmington.

On paper, they would then have to beat second-seeded Old Dominion in the quarterfinals, third-seeded Hofstra in the semifinals and top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth to earn Towson's first NCAA tournament berth since 1991.

Why do the Tigers have hope? The new year began with a double-overtime loss to VCU.

Why is Kennedy confounded? It was the first in a series of squandered CAA opportunities.

Three weeks after they went scoreless in the final 4:23 at Drexel, the Tigers again acquiesced to the Dragons, as the regulars produced just one field goal in the last six minutes and allowed Drexel (22-7, 13-5) to make 58.7 percent of its attempts.

Only one Tigers opponent has shot better this season: Hofstra made 59.1 percent of its attempts when Towson visited last month.

Neal's defensive energy allowed Towson to trim a 12-point deficit to two heading into the last three minutes, but Dominick Mejia countered with an open three, and 6-foot-10 Chaz Crawford doubled the length of their next possession with an offensive rebound.

On one sequence, the Tigers didn't fight through a screen and got beat by a fifth-year senior who began his career in the Atlantic Coast Conference at North Carolina State. In the other, they didn't box out a senior big man who has long been a defensive force in the CAA.

"We always had that one or two mistakes that you can only get through experience," Kennedy said. "You can't get that in practice. You have to get it in a game."

Kennedy has usually started four transfers. Next year he expects to use three more.

"It's really a matter of having guys in the system over a three- and four-year period," Kennedy acknowledged. "This [incoming] recruiting class doesn't have that, but in order to get competitive and to be respectable, I felt we had to do it."

Who knows where the Towson rebuilding job would be without Neal?

The Tigers finished in the CAA cellar two seasons ago, but Neal joined them in December 2005, immediately narrowed the talent gap and added life to the Towson Center. Yesterday's late-arriving crowd of 3,218 oohed and aahed over his artistry.

The senior from Aberdeen and Calvert Hall had his 10th 30-point game and increased the nation's fourth-leading average to 25.6. Neal has 769 points this season. Five more, and it will be the most productive in the CAA in two decades, when Navy was a member and David Robinson set the record.

Neal left La Salle under a cloud in 2004 and thanked Kennedy and Towson for giving him another chance.

"I wouldn't have changed a thing," said Neal, who quickly corrected himself. "Well, I definitely would have wanted to win more."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

DREXEL-Elegar 6-11 2-5 14, Crawford 3-6 2-2 8, Rodgers 5-10 5-5 16, Mason 2-4 4-4 9, Mejia 7-10 0-0 18, Hawthorne 3-4 2-2 10, Hampton 0-0 0-0 0, Oveneke 1-1 0-0 2, Feurtado 0-0 0-0 0, Stevenson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-46 15-18 77. TOWSON-Abraham 6-14 2-3 14, Tubbs 2-5 0-0 4, Pease 2-3 0-0 5, Williams 3-6 0-0 6, Neal 11-17 7-10 30, Pratt 1-1 0-0 3, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Crossin 0-0 0-0 0, Coleman 0-1 2-2 2, Breaux 0-0 0-0 0, Spruill 1-5 2-2 4, Plack 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-52 13-17 68. Half-Drexel, 45-35. 3-point goals-Drexel 8-15 (Mejia 4-6, Hawthorne 2-3, Mason 1-3, Rodgers 1-3), Towson 3-15 (Pratt 1-1, Pease 1-2, Neal 1-5, Williams 0-1, Abraham 0-3, Spruill 0-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Drexel 26 (Crawford 13), Towson 23 (Abraham, Neal 5). Assists-Drexel 15 (Rodgers 4), Towson 14 (Williams 5). Total fouls-Drexel 17, Towson 17. A-3,218.

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