The Streak died Saturday afternoon.
After an NCAA Division I record 41 straight losses, the Towson University Tigers finally won a basketball game.
“I’m not saying we’re on the road to New Orleans,” director of athletics Mike Waddell told The Sporting News. “But as long as you keep fighting … They literally come out and play hard, every day in practice, in every game. You can’t give up on kids. These kids are resilient.”
First-year head coach Pat Skerry echoed those sentiments after Towson’s 66-61 upset of UNC-Wilmington. “This was a great team win!” Skerry exclaimed, opening his post-game press conference. “I’m really happy for my guys.
“Sometimes people think it’s ‘coach speak’ when talking about how hard the guys have been working, but they really have been. Every day.”
Towson hadn’t won a game since defeating LaSalle in overtime, 93-90, on December 29, 2010. They closed out last season with 19 straight losses, prompting coach Pat Kennedy’s resignation.
Last season’s lowlight? The team bus got caught in a snowstorm en route to a game against George Mason. The 70-mile drive took 10 hours. The only casualty was coach Kennedy’s coat, sacrificed in an attempt to help the bus gain traction on a slippery highway ramp.
Typically, the bus remained stuck, the tire shredded Kennedy’s coat, and the next night, Towson lost the rescheduled game, 84-58. Season record: 4-26.
Shortly after Kennedy left, leading scorer Isaiah Philmore transferred to Xavier. Another player left to play professionally in Israel. Then the lone returning starter earned a dismissal from the team.
But if there’s anyone who might succeed wading into this quagmire, it’s Skerry. Here’s a guy who really loves the game. He played his college ball at Tufts, of all places. After his 1992 graduation, he went to work for an international education firm.
Four days into the job, he won $473 in the lottery. He promptly quit, and went back to Tufts—as an assistant basketball coach. Form there, his odyssey led him to Stonehill College, Curry College, Northeastern, William & Mary, College of Charleston, Rhode Island, Providence and Pittsburgh.
Towson hired Skerry from Jamie Dixon’s staff at Pitt. “He was willing to pay his dues, and he’s done that,” Dixon told the New York Times in December. “He understands how much work it’s going to take to be successful.”
That’s debatable. Towson has managed to string together 16 straight losing seasons. They’re the only team in the nation that returned just one letterman this season, and forward Erique Gumbs averaged a whopping 3.6 points per game last season.
Reality set in early. “We lost to a Division II team in the exhibition season in Virginia State that’s 2-14,” Skerry told Andy Katz of ESPN. “I knew then that we were in for a grind.”
The grind began instantly. The Tigers opened the season in Lawrence, Kan., and were promptly obliterated by the Jayhawks, 100-54. A respectable 64-47 loss to Michigan preceded an 87-41 blowout loss to Belmont.
The highlight came on Nove. 26, a 66-46 loss at home to Oregon State.
The game was attended by the First Family, as Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, coaches the Beavers.
Towson tied Sacramento State’s record in fine fashion on Jan. 4. Their 34th straight loss, 60-27 to Drexel, set a school Division I record for fewest points scored.
Undaunted, the record was never in doubt on Jan. 7, as the Tigers were thrashed by Old Dominion 75-38.
Loss number 37 came in Atlanta to Georgia State, 57-42. The Panthers’ uninspired performance prompted coach Ron Hunter to tell the AJC, “First time in 20 years I had to coach effort. It’s no fun when you have to coach effort.”
It’s no fun coaching an untalented bunch, either. Towson shot 25 percent (12 for 48) from the floor in that game. Earlier, they lost to UMBC 62-58 by missing 17 of 25 free throws. Truly The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
“At times,” Skerry told the New York Times, “I feel like this team is in the middle of a forest, and the only way we’re going to find our way out is if the forest burns down.”
No wonder. Before Saturday’s game, out of 344 schools, Towson ranked 344th in scoring, 344th in assists, and 343rd in field goal percentage. They turned the ball over on a whopping 30 percent of their possessions, also a national worst.
Somehow, Skerry got his team to buy into his mantra of “guarding and grinding.” They’ve kept working, and, finally, crawled out from under The Streak.
“I’ve been here for the whole thing,” Gumbs told towsontigers.com. The only player with a hand in all 41 losses continued: “It was actually pretty emotional. I’ve been waiting for a long time. We came out there and stuck to our principles and got it.”
“It feels good!” Skerry added. “We’re going to have a lot of them here. It says a lot about these guys.”
Maybe one day they’ll even reach Waddell’s goal and become the epicenter of basketball in Baltimore.
But first things first. Hofstra awaits Wednesday night. Anyone for two in a row?