For Towson, ending record losing streak is ‘big relief’

As Towson University's record losing streak extended into uncharted territory this winter, sophomore forward Marcus Damas grew more and more hesitant to answer his phone or check his email.

"I'd get a call every day asking when we would get a win," Damas said Saturday. "A call, or a text, an email, a post on facebook, a mention on Twitter. Every day."

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Damas can expect nothing but congratulatory voicemails and text messages this weekend after Towson won its first game in 395 days. The Tigers defeated visiting UNC Wilmington 66-61 on Saturday to end the longest losing streak in Division I college basketball history at 41.

A win over a struggling conference foe that is just 8-13 this season wouldn't normally be cause for jubilation, but Towson celebrated on the floor and in its locker room as though it had just clinched an NCAA tournament berth. The Tigers (1-22, 1-10) went the entire 2011 calendar year without a victory. Prior to Saturday, Towson's last win was a 93-90 OT victory against La Salle on Dec. 29, 2010.

"It felt unreal," Damas said. "After all this work, we finally did it. It was a big relief."

It has been 15 years since Towson last had a winning season, but this losing streak has been particularly dismal.

Twenty-eight of Towson's 41 losses have come by 10 or more points, including all but three this season. The closest the Tigers have come to winning during that stretch was a 95-93 overtime loss to UNC Wilmington last season in which they somehow squandered a 22-point lead in the final 14 minutes of regulation.

There was a point on Saturday when it looked like Towson might surrender another lead to UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks trimmed an eight-point deficit to one and had a chance to take a lead with 20 seconds left, but they missed a pair of free throws, enabling the Tigers to escape with the long-awaited victory.

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Towson's struggles this season are no surprise considering new coach Pat Skerry had to essentially rebuild the roster this offseason.

Leading scorer Isaiah Philmore transferred to Xavier shortly after former coach Pat Kennedy was fired. Braxton Dupree left to play professionally in Israel. And the indefinite suspension of leading returning scorer RaShawn Polk before the season left Skerry with just one player who played for Towson last season: redshirt sophomore forward Erique Gumbs, who averaged a mere 3.6 points.

Skerry's recruiting prowess offers hope for the future. And in the short term, Towson believes not having the pressure of ending the streak could do wonders for the competitiveness of this team.

"Coming to Towson, we knew it was going to be hard," Damas said. "We didn't think it would be this bad, but nobody stopped believing. The competition just got hotter in practice. Nobody stopped trying liking a loser. Everybody just kept believing.

"To finally win today, it's a lot off our shoulders. It's a blessing."

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