Forget fifth place. Sixth is a stretch and so is seventh place.
The Towson University basketball team is headed for eighth or ninth place in the final America East standings.
That means the Tigers are most likely stuck with playing one of the two Friday night first-round games when the America East tournament opens in 10 days at the Carpenter Center on the University of Delaware campus.
That is the fate of a Towson team that lost its seventh straight game last night when a go-for-broke second-half rally fell short against the University of Vermont, 66-57, at the Towson Center.
The slumping Tigers were on the verge of pulling off a miraculous comeback from an 18-point halftime deficit when Alphonso Hawes went to the foul line and hit two free throws to slice the Vermont lead to 56-55 with 3: 38 left.
The slumbering Towson offense had finally come to life.
But then the usually solid Towson defense dissolved, allowing Vermont to score two easy baskets for a 61-55 lead with 1: 29 remaining and wiping out the miracle finish.
Jared Steele accounted for the first crucial Catamounts basket, slashing through the Towson defense for a running bank shot for a 59-55 lead with 2: 24 on the clock.
Then slender 6-foot-3 sophomore Tony Orciari went weaving and bobbing through a maze of Towson defenders in the lane for a layup and 61-55 advantage.
Steele, a 6-6 senior, led Vermont with a career-high 19 points.
Towson had trailed by as many as 23 points early on, thanks to a second straight listless first-half performance which left coach Mike Jaskulski baffled.
"I'm going to look at the tape and try and find out why we haven't come out and played hard in the first half the last two games and if I see we need to make personnel changes in the next game, we'll do it," said Jaskulski. "I'm going to put five guys out there on the floor who will play hard. We can't have this happen again. We can't dig these holes and expect to pull out the game with miracle finishes."
Towson (5-19, 4-12) shot only 26.9 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 33.9 percent for the game.
Vermont (10-14, 6-10) rained four threes on the Tigers in the first half and ran some nifty high-low post plays for layups and a 37-19 lead.
Jaskulski said, "We made one defensive adjustment in the second half to take them out of the high-low offense and it worked."
Towson junior point guard Marlin Wise said, "I don't want to say this team accepts losing but we don't come out to win every night. It seems as if we're trying not to lose. I don't think I was assertive enough in the first half."
Wise hit a big three-point shot with 4: 28 left in the game, reducing the lead to 55-53 but he only had five points to go with his five assists and three steals.
VERMONT -- Carberry 2-6 1-2 6, Orciari 4-9 2-4 12, Steele 7-11 5-8 19, Chotkowski 2-7 3-4 7, Roach 0-5 0-0 0, Nemitz 0-0 0-0 0, Murphy 5-9 2-3 15, Gaines 2-2 1-2 5, McLaughlin 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 23-52 14-23 66.
TOWSON -- Hannon 0-0 0-0 0, Davalli 5-9 1-1 12, Hawes 2-8 5-6 9, Wise 2-7 0-1 5, Mauro 3-9 3-5 10, Cason 1-2 0-0 3, Holtz 1-4 4-6 6, Zenou 0-1 0-0 1, dePablo 1-4 0-0 3, White 0-0 0-0 0, Augustus 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 14-20 57.
Halftime--Vermont, 37-19. 3-point goals--V 6-17 (Murphy 3-7, Orciari 2-6, Carberry 1-2, Roach 0-2); T 5-14 (Davalli 1-2, Mauro 1-4, Wise 1-2, dePablo 1-4, Cason 1-2). Fouled out--Mauro. Rebounds--V 41 (Steele 9); T 37 (Hawes 12). Assists--V 12 (Roach 5); T 12 (Wise 5). Total fouls--V 20, T 23. A--841.
Pub Date: 2/16/99