|With Obama In Crowd, Tigers Lose Home Opener|
By Simon Habtemariam
For the first time in years, the Towson Center was filled to near capacity. It was not on account of the green, winless men's basketball team, led by first-year head coach Pat Skerry. The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was in attendance Nov. 26, as the Tigers faced Oregon State, coached by first lady Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson.
A couple weeks ago, the idea of a first-family visit to Towson had been thrown around on message boards and rumors sprinkled around town. Secret Service had come to scope the school for security reasons, and the president's office confirmed late Friday that Obama and his family would attend Saturday's contest.
The couple has attended previous games when the Beavers have traveled to the East Coast. Towson was the only East Coast stop left on the schedule for the Beavers, who had just left a tournament in East Rutherford, N.J., last week.
This matchup was one in the making for some time. Towson's athletic department saw an opportunity on its schedule to give the Beavers another East Coast non-conference game before they returned to the pacific northwest. Athletic Director Mike Waddell usually favors large events. Saturday's almost-sellout crowd comes after a football season that shattered school attendance records.
"Great atmosphere out here for a college basketball game," Skerry said. "Hopefully, long term, this is something that can become the norm for Towson University."
With Secret Service, Maryland state troopers and Baltimore County Police patrolling the building, all fans were required to enter the Towson Center by 15 minutes before tipoff. At about 10 minutes before the opening tip, the Obama family entered the arena to a thunderous applause. The president, the first lady and their two daughters sat courtside for Saturday's game and stayed for every minute of the action.
Obama even paid respect to the 2011 CAA football champion Tigers. Rob Ambrose's 9-2 program was honored at halftime for its dramatic turnaround season, which continues into the postseason next week when it hosts Lehigh in the NCAA FCS Tournament. After addressing the crowd, Obama welcomed Ambrose's team to take photographs and even personally greeted some individual players.
Ambrose said Obama shook his hand, told the Towson coach he had heard of his dramatic season and congratulated him for a job well done.
The Beavers, who came into Saturday's game averaging more than 86 points per game, started cold against the winless Tigers. It wasn't until the last few minutes of the first half Towson lost pace to Oregon State -- staying within two scores for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Beavers finished the first half on a 15-2 run, and never looked back from there.
Penalties and missed shots plagued the Tigers for the entire second half, and they dropped their regular-season home opener, 66-46.
Sophomore forward Marcus Damas registered his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 boards. The Tigers outrebounded the Beavers, 38-23.
"We ran into a very talented, well-coached, ball-moving team in Oregon State," Skerry said.
Towson open CAA play next Saturday, when they host perennial CAA contender George Mason. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m., following Towson's first ever Division I home playoff game at 3:30 p.m.
"Until we rectify as a staff, and the players take care of the basketball [better], we're going to have some long nights," Skerry said. "We give up a lot of points on turnovers. I haven't found a defense yet, where you throw the ball directly to the other team, how to stop that."
Posted Nov. 26, 2011