Towson State's first trip to the NCAA tournament was made easier by a Texas-sized band of Oklahoma-haters.
Friday, the Tigers won't have the luxury of a friendly crowd in their corner. When they play Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, many of the 13,000-plus seats at Dayton Arena will be filled with scarlet-and-gray clad Buckeye partisans.
It's only 70 miles via Interstate 70 from Columbus to Dayton. Of the 14 players on the Buckeye roster, 11 are from Ohio. Ohio State is miffed by two straight losses. The atmosphere is not going to be like 1990, when Towson State nearly knocked off top-ranked Oklahoma, thanks in part to an Austin, Texas, crowd that took to the Tigers quickly.
"This year's team has been a good road team, but it's not going to be a lot of difference between playing the Dayton Flyers or Ohio State in that building," Towson State coach Terry Truax said. "I do like the fact we've played in the arena."
Towson State began its season in Dayton Arena, with a 99-79 loss to the Flyers, and it will be the biggest upset in tournament history if Towson State's season doesn't end there.
With additional road games against Maryland, Syracuse, Alabama and Virginia, the Tigers played a more difficult non-conference schedule than Ohio State, where coach Randy Ayers' team ripped through its first seven foes by an average of 42 points.
The Buckeyes did rise to the top of the rugged Big Ten, however, winning the conference for the first time in 20 years and holding down the nation's No. 2 ranking for the last month.
"I haven't paid much attention to Ohio State," Truax said. "I know they won the Big Ten, beat Indiana twice and Randy Ayers dresses much better than I do."
Ohio State knows even less about Towson State. The Buckeye stats faxed out last night have their March 15 opponent in the first round of the NCAAs being "Townson State."
Towson State -- just one n -- will be facing a team that fell flat in its last two regular-season games. The Buckeyes pretty much clinched the Big Ten championship three weeks ago in a double-overtime classic over Indiana, but they lost at Purdue last week and at Iowa yesterday.
Ohio State (25-3) impressed enough over the long haul, however, for the selection committee to deem it one of the four No. 1 seeds, along with UNLV in the West, Arkansas in the Southeast and North Carolina in the East.
"We feel the committee rewarded us for our consistency earlier in the season," Ayers said. "We're happy with the seed and we're happy to go to Dayton. They [Towson State] will try to control the tempo of the game. I know about Truax and the job he's done."
Truax and company are also well-versed when it comes to one Ohio State player, sophomore swingman Jim Jackson. A 6-foot-6 product of Toledo, Jackson averages 18.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting, with 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He had to be prodded to shoot at times, and his unselfishness in part made Ohio State as balanced as any team in the nation.
Perry Carter, a 6-8, 230-pound senior center from Washington, D.C., who attended Gonzaga Prep, averages 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds. Jamaal Brown, a 6-4 junior guard from Texas, also scores 12.1 a game and is Ohio State's top three-point threat. His backcourt mate is Mark Baker, a 6-1 junior who's good for 11.0 points and 5.0 assists per game.
Ayers gambled this season when he asked 6-7 junior Chris Jent to step aside and let 6-8 senior Treg Lee start at forward. Lee has blossomed into a force who gets 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds, and sixth man Jent chips in 8.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 21 minutes a game.
Second-year coach Ayers was an assistant before Gary Williams left for Maryland two years ago. He lost no one from a group that went 17-13 last year.
As strong as the Buckeyes are, Towson State is delighted not to be facing top-ranked and unbeaten UNLV. That appeared to be a distinct possibility as the selection show on CBS unfolded in front of the Tigers at the University Union. Towson State knew it would be seeded No. 16 in its region, but Northeastern got that in the East, Georgia State in Southeast.
If the Tigers didn't get it in the Midwest, the third region announced, they knew what awaited them in the West.
"A lot of people expected us to draw the No. 1 team in the country again," senior guard Lew Waller said. "I didn't think we would be the No. 64 team in the tournament. Last year had to help. Maybe now we're No. 63. All I know is that we match up better against them [Ohio State] than we do UNLV."