HERSHEY, Pa. -- Syracuse entered the game ranked third in the country, with one of college basketball's great talents in Billy Owens. But allegations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules violations and a Towson State player named Chuck Lightening almost stole the Orangemen's thunder last night.
The Orangemen (10-0) squeezed out a 78-73 win before 6,818 at Hersheypark Arena, but they had to use every ounce of effort against an unheralded Towson (3-4) team that never backed down.
Lightening scored a career-high 29 points that helped keep the Tigers close down the stretch. But Owens (game-high 30 points), from nearby Carlisle, Pa., scored two key buckets late in the game that enabled the Orangemen to withstand a Towson surge.
Syracuse had its biggest lead of the game, 72-65, with three minutes left in the game, but Lightening hit a jumper and a free throw after being fouled, and Devin Boyd (18 points, 10 assists) scored on a layup to pull the Tigers within 72-70 with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game. With what had been a pro-Syracuse crowd in a frenzy rooting for the underdog, Towson had a chance to tie, but Boyd turned the ball over on a three-on-one break, and Owens hit a jumper on the other end to make it 74-70.
A Terrance Jacobs layup pulled Towson within 74-72 with 1:08 left, but the Orangemen were able to preserve the win.
A 105-75 loser at the Syracuse Carrier Dome a year ago, Towson -- minus four starters from that NCAA tournament team -- was the aggressive team in the first half, which ended tied at 37. Towson led, 43-41, two minutes into the second half after a layup by Jacobs.
Owens then began asserting himself, scoring four straight three-point baskets during a 12-4 run that put Syracuse up 53-47.
But the Tigers continued to fight back. Little-used sophomore guard Craig Valentine, making his first start, scored on two straight jumpers to pull Towson within 53-51. Owens then scored on back-to-back breakaway dunks for a 57-51 Syracuse advantage with 10:40 left.
Towson got within two, 61-59, on a Jacobs layup with 6:29 left. But the Orangemen went to a spread offense and began to go to the 6-foot-10 LeRon Ellis, who had just two points on two shot attempts in the first half. Eliis scored eight of 12 points in the final six minutes of the game.
The fans in the arena mainly came to see Syracuse and Pennsylvania high school star Owens, but it was Towson forward Lightening who provided the early fireworks with 18 first-half points.
Syracuse guard Michael Edwards hit a jumper in the opening minute to give the Orangemen a 2-0 lead, but Towson guard Devin Boyd hit a driving jumper, and Lightening hit a thunderous dunk over Owens during an 8-0 run that put the Tigers up 8-2.
Edwards, the Syracuse floor leader, who entered the game averaging 8.7 points a game, turned his ankle one minute into the game and never returned in the half. His absence helped the Tigers as they increased the pressure on Syracuse and had a 16-11 lead five minutes into the game.
But the Orangemen fought back as Owens and backup guard Scott McCorkle both hit three-pointers during a 10-0 spurt that helped lift Syracuse a 21-16 lead. Guard Adrian Autry later hit a free throw to give Syracuse its biggest lead, 24-18, but Lightening then led a Towson comeback.
First, the 6-5 junior from Silver Spring, Md., tipped in a missed shot, and after Boyd scored on a layup, hit a jumper to tie the game at 24 with 9:56 left in the half. The two teams then played through five lead changes for the remainder of the half, before Jacobs tipped in a missed shot by Lightening at the halftime buzzer to tie the game at 37.
Lightening, a 44 percent shooter from the field before last night, hit nine of 13 field goals in the first half. The rest of the Tigers were six of 24 as the team shot 41.7 percent for the half.
Owens and Dave Johnson both had 13 in the first half to lead Syracuse, which shot 46.7 percent from the field. Syracuse committed 10 turnovers in the half (Towson had six) and was out-rebounded, 23-20.
The Orangemen entered the game averaging 90.9 points per game and 52.1 percent from the field. They shot 45.9 percent. Towson entered the game with a 76.3 scoring average, shooting 41.9 percent. The Tigers hit 45.7 percent from the field.
SYRACUSE (78) -- Johnson 7-17 5-5 19, Owens 13-20 3-6 30, Ellis 4-9 4-6 12, Autry 2-7 7-8 11, Edwards 1-2 0-0 2, McRae 0-2 1-2 1, Hopkins 0-0 0-0 0, McCorkle 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 28-61 20-27 78.
TOWSON STATE (73) -- Lightening 14-22 1-3 29, Brown 0-3 0-0 0, Griffin 1-2 0-0 2, Boyd 7-15 4-7 18, Valentine 2-2 0-0 4, Ray 0-1 0-0 0, Waller 0-2 0-0 0, Jacobs 7-17 4-9 18, Caldwell 0-0 0-0 0, Campbell 0-2 0-0 0, James 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 32-70 9-19 73.
Halftime--Syracuse 37, Towson St. 37. Three-point goals--Syracuse 2-9 (Owens 1-2, McCorkle 1-4, Johnson 0-1, Autry 0-1, Edwards 0-1), Towson St. 0-5 (Jacobs 0-1, Lightening 0-2, Boyd 0-2). Fouled out--Brown, James. Rebounds--Syracuse 46 (Owens 16), Towson St. 39 (Jacobs 9). Assists--Syracuse 15 (Johnson 5), Towson St. 19 (Boyd 10). Total fouls--Syracuse 15, Towson St. 21. Technical--Jacobs. A--6,818.