Towson University point guard Marlin Wise is still battling the books and is ineligible, outstanding junior transfer Torin Ragin continues to limp up and down the court and leading scorer Pete Mauro has become so frustrated with his play he decided to take five days off.
That was not the kind of situation the struggling Tigers wished to be in last night as they took on a strong Lafayette team that earned a 16-point victory over Princeton earlier this season.
But Towson put together its best effort of the season, playing the methodical Leopards tough before dropping a 76-69 decision at the Towson Center.
The loss was a bitter pill for coach Mike Jaskulski and his players to swallow because the 1-7 Tigers outrebounded Lafayette, 48-26, including a whopping 27-5 advantage on the offensive boards.
Towson trailed by only five with a little more than five minutes left, got off 70 shots to 45 for the winners and was nearly even in turnovers, with just 13 to 11 for Lafayette.
That would have been good enough to win on a normal evening against an ordinary opponent.
But this was 7-2 Lafayette, which is off to its best start in the last 18 years -- a team that lost only to Purdue by 10 and to Delaware by 14. Delaware is the defending America East Conference champion.
It's a team that has not only trounced Princeton, but has beaten Dartmouth, Columbia, St. Peter's, Swarthmore, Howard and, now, Towson.
The Leopards more than lived up to their advance notices last night by beating Towson several times on the time-honored backdoor plays, passing the ball relentlessly until somebody had a high-percentage shot, and shooting 60 percent from the field.
At times, it was like a 40-minute clinic.
But the Tigers were very much in the fight with 5: 09 left, trailing 66-61 and having possession.
Towson worked the ball around nicely, but a set play fell apart and the Tigers had to settle for a desperation shot to beat the 35-second clock.
Damon Cason's running jumper to beat the clock bounced off the rim, a costly miss for Towson.
Lafayette's Tyson Whitfield answered with a three-pointer for a 69-61 lead with 3: 51 left and scrappy Lafayette guard Tim Bieg stole the ball from Cason on the next Towson possession and turned it into a layup for a 71-61 advantage with 3: 12 left.
Jaskulski said, "A backdoor here, losing sight of a man there and the failure to fight through a screen somewhere else and it kills us. I know it sounds strange since we're 1-7, but the way this team played tonight, I expect good things to happen sometime in January and February."
Brian Barber led Towson with 16 points. "There was no margin for error against these guys," he said. "They were good, but we could have won if we just had made a few less mistakes on communication and some small things. I think we're going to be all right."
Hot-shooting Lafayette forward Brain Ehlers led all scorers with 21 points and 6-foot-6 center Ted Cole had 19 points.
Pub Date: 12/23/98