TOWSON, Md. --- By all accounts, Towson should have been exhausted.
Less than 48 hours earlier, they fell in a tight game at UNC Wilmington. There was little sleep that night, then a flight home from Raleigh, then a practice, then a date with CAA co-leader Virginia Commonwealth.
Instead, the Tigers are simply tired of losing.
Towson has the market cornered on the art of the tight loss, suffering its 10th setback by 10 or fewer points on Monday. The 80-76 defeat was a game outing for the Tigers (4-15, 0-9 CAA), who cemented their place in the conference cellar at the midpoint of the league season with Northeastern finally collecting its first CAA win on Monday.
"Our guys have come a long way," coach Pat Kennedy said. "There's not a lot to show for it in the win-loss column, but this group of guys have come a long way."
Indeed, Towson didn't look the part of a punching bag. The Tigers never let the Rams (16-5, 8-1) build a lead bigger than six points, and immediately closed within a basket when Virginia Commonwealth was poised to finally put them away in the final eight minutes.
There are also rational reasons for the Tigers' inability to climb closer to the top half of the conference this year. Forward Robert Nwankwo, last year's blocked shots leader in the CAA, found himself in eligibility purgatory thanks to a credits snafu. Guard Cephas Oglesby, a junior college transfer, showed up with bum knees. And the program and point guard Troy Franklin parted ways in December.
"Not that people are writing about us like Duke, but it would be hard for any other program in America to go through what we went through and still be as competitive as we were," Kennedy said.
And yet the Tigers are well on their way to a 15th straight losing season, an extended drought that could be described as miserable if it wasn't for external apathy toward the basketball program in the northern Baltimore suburbs.
Towson ranks 11th in the CAA in home attendance, ahead of only Georgia State, and that figure likely won't improve substantially with the Tigers becoming the league's first 0-9 team since James Madison (0-12) and William and Mary (0-9) both struggled mightily five years ago.
Still, there are signs of life, hints Towson could progress far enough by March to be a nuisance when it arrives in Richmond. The Tigers have won at least one CAA tournament game for four years running, and enough pieces are in place for a spurt at some point in the next six weeks.
Without the aggravation of double-teams, Maryland transfer Braxton Dupree collected 22 points. Forward Isaiah Philmore is a multi-faceted player when he doesn't wander into foul trouble. Guard RaShawn Polk is a capable CAA guard.
That is, if the losing doesn't erode the hope of the eight-man roster (Kennedy is redshirting three freshmen).
"It's been tough," Dupree said. "We're competitors and we want to give our best effort when we go out there. Regardless of us not having Rob or Cephas, we're still going to go out there and play and play as hard as we can. It's tough. We want to win, and we're just going to keep fighting. We have a lot of games left."
There's 10 in the regular season, plus the conference tournament. With efforts like Monday's, chances are Towson will poach a few victories down the stretch.
The time for that might not be in the next week. Towson, a team in no need of any more hurdles, must travel to George Mason, Old Dominion and Drexel in succession.
It isn't easy. But neither is the losing --- something the Tigers have already had their fill of at the halfway juncture of the conference schedule, even if there are signs the future might not be so bad.
"Let me tell you something: As long as I've done this, you know what you feel in your heart and gut," Kennedy said. "When you come to practice every day and just love the kids you're working with, you know it's going to happen. ...
"To me it's been very, very encouraging. Jerry Tarkanian said once 'I've had teams I loved and I've had teams I didn't like a whole lot.' When you have those teams, it ain't fun. But these guys have been just fabulous. When you look at us statistically, we have a lot to look forward to."