You can't walk around the Towson University campus without finding a sign, a shirt, or something else asking you to "Restore the Roar." It's part of the athletic department's effort to ignite interest in athletics at a school where athletic success has generally been hard to come by. The renewed investment has paid off already: On this day, the Towson Tigers were making their first Division I football tournament appearance in school history, having won the difficult Colonial Athletic Association, also for the first time ever.
Unrelated to basketball? Don't be so certain. Consider the recent history for Towson football. Three years ago, the Tigers hired a young assistant named Rob Ambrose to take over a struggling football program with little winning tradition in Division I. After hitting the recruiting trail hard and suffering through two lean years, Ambrose has the Tigers positioned to become a regular contender in FCS football.
The beginning of that timeline sounds pretty similar to what Towson basketball has undergone recently. To wit: the program hired another young assistant coach, Pat Skerry, to take over after a miserable 4-26 year under journeyman coach Pat Kennedy. Already, he's had an impact: Skerry's first recruiting class has been rated among the best at the mid-major level. That should only improve as Towson gets even closer to opening its brand new Tiger Arena in the fall of 2013, moving out of the aging Towson Center.
Not bad for a team that didn't win a game in the Colonial last season.
Of course, all of the rebuilding in the world isn't going to help win in the present if the team you're working with just isn't very good. In the case of Pat Skerry's first group of Towson Tigers, the team he's working with just isn't very good. Through six games, the Tigers were winless, with none of their losses coming by less than 12 points. Tonight's matchup against the George Mason Patriots, the perennial CAA power, figured to be more of the same.
And early on, it was. The crowd, largely composed of folks entering for free using their ticket stub from Towson's football playoff game, was not finding any sort of relief from the football Tigers' heartbreaking loss about an hour earlier. Mason jumped out to an early 21-7 lead, and Towson looked like they were going to be run out of their own building.
But then, something must have clicked for Skerry's squad. The bleeding stopped, and the rest of the way, the Tigers played George Mason nearly shot for shot. The team that couldn't do anything right to start the game was more than holding its own against one of the best teams in the Colonial.
Towson wouldn't go on to win this game, nor would they put much of a scare into Mason the rest of the way - the Patriots never led by less than six in the second half. Even still, there was hope for the Towson fans in attendance. Despite the awful start, the Tigers managed to match one of the CAA's best for nearly two-thirds of the game. It was an improvement, however small, and the first sign that maybe this season won't be nearly as disastrous as it originally seemed it might be.
Even if it is a disaster, though, the Towson fans shouldn't be bothered too much. After all, they know what's coming. They've seen this all before. Just give it time.
GEORGE MASON 65, at TOWSON 53 12/03/2011
GEORGE MASON 6-2 (1-0) -- B. Allen 3-12 3-4 10; S. Wright 5-8 0-0 11; R. Pearson 3-5 6-6 14; M. Morrison 7-10 0-1 14; V. Vaughns 4-9 3-3 12; P. Bennett 0-3 0-1 0; J. Arledge 0-3 2-2 2; E. Copes 1-4 0-0 2; V. Gray 0-1 0-0 0; B. Lewis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-55 14-17 65. TOWSON 0-7 (0-1) -- M. Damas 9-14 3-3 25; D. Jones 3-6 2-2 9; R. Nwankwo 0-6 1-4 1; E. Gumbs 1-6 3-4 5; K. Walden 3-9 0-0 7; W. Adams 2-5 0-0 6; J. Pressley 0-2 0-0 0; J. Flash 0-0 0-0 0; D. Cook 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 9-13 53.
Three-point goals: GMU 5-17 (R. Pearson 2-4; P. Bennett 0-1; V. Vaughns 1-6; S. Wright 1-2; B. Allen 1-3; V. Gray 0-1), TOWS 8-17 (E. Gumbs 0-1; W. Adams 2-4; M. Damas 4-6; D. Jones 1-2; J. Pressley 0-1; K. Walden 1-3); Rebounds: GMU 37 (M. Morrison 8), TOWS 25 (R. Nwankwo 7); Assists: GMU 11 (M. Morrison 3), TOWS 5 (K. Walden 2); Total Fouls -- GMU 14, TOWS 17; Fouled Out: GMU-None; TOWS-None.