HERSHEY, Pa. -- After the final buzzer sounded on Syracuse's 78-73 win over Towson State last night, Tigers forward Chuck Lightening ran to half-court and shouted something at retreating Orangeman forward Billy Owens.
"There was a lot of talk on the court, but I was just upset that he ran off without shaking our hands," Lightening said. "I thought that was real tacky."
Playing before his Carlisle High School fans, Owens' homecoming nearly was shattered by Lightening's career-high 29 points, as unheralded Towson (3-4) gave third-ranked Syracuse (10-0) all it could handle before 6,818 fans at Hersheypark Arena.
"We knew we could play with them, and we just hung in there," said Lightening, who hit 14 of 22 field-goal attempts. "I just wanted to win. Whether it took me, or someone else to do it, I wanted to win."
Perhaps Syracuse was flustered by a report yesterday in The (Syracuse) Post-Standard that alleged the school's basketball program had breached National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, including making illegal payments to players. (Coach Jim Boeheim declined to comment on the allegations after the game.) Or maybe the loss of sophomore guard Michael Edwards, who injured his ankle less than five minutes into the game, rattled the Orangemen.
But still, with Owens, 6 feet 9, and LeRon Ellis, 6-10, matched against a Towson starting five that had just two players over 6-5, the Orangemen had only a two-point lead with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game, and needed several questionable non-calls by the officials and some missed Towson free throws at the end to preserve the win.
"In the end, we just went to the basics," Boeheim said. "We got the ball to Billy, and he made the moves he had to make."
Trailing, 72-70, after a layup by Devin Boyd (18 points, 10 assists), Towson had a chance to tie the game after Syracuse turned the ball over on its next possession. But, with the Towson supporters screaming wildly, Boyd threw the ball behind Terrance Jacobs on a three-on-one fast break, and Owens hit a 14-foot jumper after the turnover to put Syracuse up, 74-70, with 1:25 left.
After Jacobs (18 points, nine rebounds) put Towson within 74-72, on a layup with 1:08 left, Owens again answered with a short jumper in the lane, and freshman guard Adrian Autry followed with two free throws for a 78-72 Syracuse lead with 51 seconds remaining.
Boyd was fouled on Towson's next trip and hit just one of two free throws to make it 78-73. But Towson missed several scoring opportunities in the final seconds as time ran out.
"We only had a day to prepare and our kids gave a great effort," Towson coach Terry Truax said. "Our kids don't lack confidence. I didn't expect our team to get blown out, and I don't think Syracuse took us lightly."
On paper the game seemed like an easy win on the Syracuse schedule, especially after the Orangemen dominated Towson, 105-75, at the Carrier Dome last year. And it was supposed to be a big night for Owens, who scored 53 points in his previous appearance at the Hersheypark Arena, leading Carlisle High School to the 1988 state championship.
But Towson -- playing without four starters from last year and starting three sophomores -- proved at the outset that the game would not be easy. Lightening emphasized that point early with a thundering two-hand dunk over Owens that put Towson up, 4-2.
The dunk was a part of a 8-0 Towson run that gave the Tigers their biggest lead, 8-2. And with Syracuse floor leader Edwards, who was averaging 8.7 points, out of the game, the Tigers had a 16-11 lead after five minutes had elapsed.
The Orangemen fought back as Owens and backup guard Scott McCorkle hit three-pointers during a 10-0 spurt that helped Syracuse to a 21-16 lead. Autry later hit a free throw to give Syracuse its biggest lead of the half, 24-18.
But then Lightening began to assert himself. First, the 6-5 junior from Silver Spring, Md., scored on a tip and, after Boyd hit a layup, shot a jumper to tie the game at 24 with 9:56 left. Lightening had 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field in the first half, and Towson tied the game at 37 at halftime when Jacobs tipped in a missed jumper by Lightening.
"Chuck doesn't lack confidence, and he did that while covering Owens," Truax said. "Against Navy earlier, he shot well [previous career high of 27 points], but it's not magnified as [much as] when you play a team like Syracuse."
Towson had its last lead, 43-41, when Jacobs hit a layup early in the second half. But Owens was beginning to assert himself; he scored on a variety of jumpers and dunks on his way to 17 second-half points that helped the Orangemen hold off Towson.
"I had a shorter guy on me, and I wanted to post up," Owens said. "I'm glad we won. I was very excited to come back to Hershey to play in front of the Carlisle fans."