Loyola College was the only local basketball team to launch the 1990-91 season at home Saturday . . . and the only team that won.
Starting on the road was unkind to five other area Division I area teams, including Coppin State and Towson State, two of last season's Cinderella entries in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
The Eagles gave host Tulsa trouble, but without 270-pound center Larry McCollum (hand surgery), they dropped an 84-79 game to a team chosen to contend in the Missouri Valley Conference. Coppin led by five at the half and shot 54.2 percent from the field, but never quite got over the hump.
Coach Terry Truax said his team faces an obstacle common to many Terrapins opponents: how to offset 6-foot-8 Walt Williams, the point guard. "He's not just a guy who goes inside on the block. He also an excellent perimeter shooter," said Truax. "He's so dangerous with the ball anywhere he is."
Maryland has been able to overwhelm the Tigers inside during their recent meetings, but Truax said he hopes that isn't the case now. "I don't think that's as big a factor as usual," he said. "Maryland isn't as big, and we have as much [overall] depth."
The Tigers received strong bench play from guards Myron Ray and Terrance Jacobs, who combined for 34 points in 33 minutes.
"We missed a lot of easy baskets," said Truax. "I don't think the score reflected the closeness of the game. Dayton was a good team for us to play to get ready for Maryland's pressure. I just wish we had another day between the games."
Several other coaches were encouraged by what they saw from their teams against some top opposition.
Jim Phelan of Mount St. Mary's said yesterday, "When you get as far as we did, you want to do a little better than just have people say you played well." The Mount took Xavier, the defending champ of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, to the limit before losing, 103-96. "We just buried ourselves early on."
The Mount was 21 points behind in the first half, but rallied to tie at 93-93 before losing Kevin Booth (29 points) on a charging call with 51 seconds to play.
"He was on fire, making everything," said Phelan. "It was one of those days when he had the touch and was looking everywhere for the ball."
Xavier's talented frontcourt was hurt by the loss of Tyrone Hill and Derek Strong, but the Musketeers' guards have the ability to carry the team until the newcomers mature.
"They pressed us all-out," said Phelan. "But the second half, we were scoring every time down. We just about got there."
Xavier has won its conference five straight seasons and beat Kansas State and Georgetown before losing in the NCAA tournament last March.
The Mount will run into another team trying to play up-tempo basketball at Navy tonight. But that style didn't serve the Midshipmen well in a 103-84 loss at Fordham.
"When you do things that are new, it's going to take some time," said Navy coach Pete Herrmann, whose team shot 31 percent. "We had a stronger second half."
The University of Maryland Baltimore County didn't disgrace itself either at defending Atlantic Coast Conference king Clemson, which won, 90-73, but the Retrievers never could feel totally comfortable.
"The best thing is our guys didn't quit," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins. "I can't fault the effort against a much bigger team. The biggest thing now is to see how much we can improve in the next game."
Larry Simmons, the top scorer, is gone from the UMBC roster, and only seniors Derrick Reid, Jim Frantz and Bobby Mills have extensive experience.
Hawkins was pleased with the leadership he received from those three. Reid scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Frantz contributed 12 points despite some tough-luck shots while going against the Tigers' Dale Davis, one of the ACC's top big men.
"We just had one stretch where fatigue and our youth showed," said Hawkins. "I think when the young guys find their niche, we'll be OK."
Loyola, playing before a tiny Reitz Arena crowd with its students on break, outlasted George Washington, 87-78, controlling the game all the way.
"Two weeks in Europe [last summer] really helped us," said coach Tom Schneider. "We played different combinations and learned a lot. We're already pretty experienced."
"They played hard and hungry," said Colonials coach Mike Jarvis.