Ahead of 'Battle for Greater Baltimore,' Towson is soaring and Morgan State is waiting

Towson men’s basketball coach Pat Skerry has a team that’s feeling good and looking good, which is always good.

“I like this as much, if not more, potentially,” than previous Tigers teams, he said Tuesday. Towson has remained healthy throughout an 8-1 start, the program’s best in Division I history. “I think they've got the chance to do something really special.”

Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman has a team that’s without its top returning scorer, senior guard Tiwian Kendley, which is never good.

“You clearly miss his 20 points a game and his six rebounds, and he's a guy that can go and get shots and create shots for himself, so you do miss that,” Bozeman said.

Before the season, Wednesday night’s “Battle for Greater Baltimore” at Towson’s SECU Arena loomed as a showdown between maybe the area’s two best teams, one the preseason favorite in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the other a deep and talented Colonial Athletic Association contender.

But Kendley’s absence for a violation of team policy and the Tigers’ out-of-the-gate excellence have recast the game’s significance in unexpected ways. Towson, days after receiving its first Associated Press Top 25 vote in four years, wants continued growth from within and new respect from without. The Bears (4-4) just want to get right for MEAC play.

“We're just trying to grow and get better,” Bozeman said. “Obviously, your goal is to play as well as you can, but your bigger goal is to try to prepare your team so that you work out all the kinks so that by the time you get to conference play, you're almost at full tilt.”

Kendley, a preseason first-team all-conference selection along with MEAC Preseason Player of the Year Phillip Carr, is practicing with Morgan State but has not played this season. He’s expected to return for the Bears’ Dec. 22 game at George Mason, their third-to-last nonconference game. League play begins Jan. 3 against UMES.

In Towson and Morgan State’s last meeting, a 78-72 Tigers road win, Kendley scored a game-high 26 points. “He's obviously a big-time, big-time player,” Skerry said. “We couldn't stop him last year.”

They won’t have to Wednesday, but then, nothing has stopped Towson since a season-opening 57-54 loss at Old Dominion — not injuries, not undefeated teams, not games across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Tigers’ eight-game winning streak includes two regular-season tournament championships. In the first, the Florida Gulf Coast Showcase, Towson rolled Florida Atlantic and Pennsylvania before handing Georgia Southern its first loss. In the second, the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland, the Tigers beat a tough La Salle team before edging Manhattan in Saturday’s final, 56-55, on a last-second jumper by senior guard Mike Morsell.

Afterward, fans and postgame fanfare kept Towson in the arena for about 100 minutes, Skerry said. There were a lot of selfies, a lot of autographs. Then it was back to Baltimore for another week of practice.

“We told our guys, the Ireland thing was awesome,” Skerry said. “It's a great experience. It's great to always win something. We've got to keep getting better, but at the end of the day, it's going to come down to our conference and possibly our conference tournament. So hopefully we can keep getting better, too, because that's going to be crucial.”

He added: “I'm sure Todd feels the same way, too.”

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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