Towson prepares for Loyola as questions on Kennedy's future linger

Tigers, who face Greyhounds on Saturday, are 4-22 in final season of coach's contract

February 18, 2011|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Towson University's embattled men's basketball team will interrupt this season's forced march through the Colonial Athletic Association to play an ESPN Bracketbusters game against Loyola College on Saturday.

Never mind that the 4-22 Tigers — winless in 16 CAA games — are not close to busting any postseason tournament brackets. They will happily accept the diversion of playing their neighborhood-rival Greyhounds (13-13) at 7 p.m. at Towson Center.

"Any time you're playing somebody in your backyard, it really does matter," Towson coach Pat Kennedy said. "This one in particular, because these two schools are so close."

It is the 70th renewal of a series that Loyola leads, 42-27, but the first meeting since Towson took a 14-point victory in the 2007-08 season opener.

In the seventh year of Kennedy's stewardship, the Tigers have been traveling very rough road. Their 15 consecutive losses are the most in the school's 32 years of Division I basketball. Towson is only four losses from tying the school's all-time losing streak, established in 1964 when it was known as Towson State Teachers College.

The Tigers' last win came in overtime at La Salle on Dec. 29.

The bad karma started in May when the team lost Robert Nwankwo, a first-team all-defense selection in the CAA, to an academic-credit issue. In October, Kennedy lost Cephas Oglesby, a junior-college transfer from Cape Fear (N.C.) Community College, to tendinitis in his knee.

When junior point guard Troy Franklin left the team in December for unspecified reasons, the Tigers could not recover. They are 1-17 since Franklin departed.

"If it was a 35-minute [game], we'd be 18-7," said Kennedy, searching for upside. "At the end of 35 minutes, we're usually tied, or up or down one or two points."

The Tigers trailed James Madison by one point with five minutes left at home on Tuesday night and lost by 11, going the rest of the way without a field goal.

"We only play seven, eight players and we don't have a go-to guard," Kennedy said. "In our league, that's such a huge key, to have a guard who can take over the game the last five minutes."

Towson is not bereft of talent, though. It has 6-foot-7 wing man Isaiah Philmore (John Carroll), who Kennedy calls the best sophomore in the CAA. Philmore scored a career-high 33 points last week. Dre Conner is a true freshman point guard who averages 23 minutes behind senior Brian Morris, and Jamel Flash is a 6-11 project redshirting this season.

But it may not be enough to save Kennedy's job. He is in the final year of his Towson contract, working for a new athletic director (Mike Waddell) and an outgoing president (Robert L. Caret). The school will officially break ground soon for a new $68 million arena that could open by 2013.

At 59, Kennedy says he's got another 10 years of coaching left. He says he likes the direction the program is headed. But the past is gruesome: Kennedy, who resurrected big-time programs at Florida State and DePaul, is only 72-138 at Towson and his best season was 15-17 in 2006-07.

"This unquestionably is the most difficult rebuilding process I've ever been in," Kennedy said. "I did it at Iona, Florida State and DePaul, but this has been far and away the most difficult because of the lack of resources … But I can see for the first time the resources are going to be developed.

"I look at the future and I say it's bright here. We're getting a new arena, a new AD, and there's enough commitment to athletics that the future here looks very good."

Whether Kennedy is part of that future is the question.

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