It was by far the best game of Chuck Lightening's career, that December night in Hershey, Pa., when the Towson State forward matched basket for basket with the nation's top player, Syracuse's Billy Owens.
"They're second and we're 63 [of 64 tournament teams], but
we don't look at it like that," Lightening said before practice yesterday. "We know what we can do. If we play our best game, we can win."
The Tigers have been in a similar position, having played top-ranked Oklahoma in the first round of last year's Midwest Regional in Austin, Texas. Many observers thought Oklahoma had a chance to fulfill coach Billy Tubbs' dream of a 200-point game, but the Tigers walked off the court with national respect after a 77-68 loss that was closer than the score indicated.
"At first, a lot of people had doubts of us even competing with Oklahoma," said Towson guard Devin Boyd, the 1990-91 East Coast Conference Player of the Year. "But we have to give coach [Terry] Truax credit for putting us in the right mind and making us believe we could win.
"It feels good to be in the tournament, but now it's time to take it another step and try to advance," said Boyd, the only starter who returned from last year's team. "At this level, a team has to come out ready to play every night. If Ohio State doesn't come out ready on Friday, they could get upset, because we're definitely out there to win."
The Tigers will have to play better than they did in their last game against a then-nationally ranked team -- a 72-49 loss at Virginia on Feb. 25. In that game, the last of the regular season, Towson shot just 32.8 percent, which led Truax to say, "I thought we were mature enough and experienced enough to at least put forth a better effort."
Guard Terrance Jacobs said timing played a part in that unimpressive outing.
"Against Virginia, it was the last game, and we were looking toward the ECC tournament," he said. "Every game from now on could be our last. So every game from now on, we have to come out pumped up."
As in the Syracuse game, the focus could be on the 6-foot-5 Lightening, who moved up from top reserve to a spot on the all-ECC team. He could find himself matched up against Ohio State All-America forward Jim Jackson.
"I've played against guys as good, if not better than, Jimmy Jackson all year. It's another game and another player, and I'm not scared or intimidated by Ohio State," said Lightening, who averaged 15.8 points and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds. "Jackson is a good player, as was Billy Owens. But I don't think less of Rider and more of Ohio State and Syracuse. I just try to play my best against everybody."
Lightening's career-high 29 points against Syracuse came at a time when he didn't think he was playing particularly well. He had scored just five points in the preceding game, against Howard, and had four points in a 93-69 loss at Maryland in the second game of the season.
"I didn't do well at all against Maryland, and my problem mostly has been one of inconsistency," Lightening said. "I thought toward the end of year I came along, and I feel I'm doing better. We'll see in this game.
"It will really take a big game from me and the rest of the team to upset Ohio State. We're going out to give it our best shot."
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no 16th or 15th seed has won a game. But some low-seeded schools have made their mark with upsets in the tournament:
* 1989 No. 13 Middle Tennessee State defeated No. 4 Florida State, 97-83, first round, Southeast.
* 1989 No. 14 Siena defeated No. 3 Stanford, 80-78, first round, East.
* 1988 No. 14 Murray State defeated No. 3 North Carolina State, 78-75, first round, Midwest.
* 1988 No. 13 Richmond defeated No. 4 Indiana, 72-69, first round, East.
* 1987 No. 13 Xavier defeated No. 4 Missouri, 70-69, first round, Midwest.
* 1987 No. 13 Southwest Missouri State defeated No. 4 Clemson, 65-60, first round, Southeast.
* 1987 No. 14 Austin Peay defeated No. 3 Illinois, 68-67, first round, Southeast.
* 1986 No. 14 Cleveland State defeated No. 3 Indiana, 83-79, first round, Southeast*.
* 1986 No. 14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeated No. 3 Notre Dame, 90-83, first round, Midwest.
* 1985 No. 13 Navy defeated No. 4 Louisiana State, 78-55, first round, Southeast.
*Cleveland State advanced to the field of 16 by beating No. 6 St. Joseph's, 75-69, in the second round, but lost to No. 7 Navy in the regional semifinals.
NCAA tournament on TV
Times, Teams Channels
12:35 p.m. Duke vs. Northeast Louisiana 11,9
3 p.m. (approx.) North Carolina State vs. S. Mississippi 11,9
8 p.m. Louisiana State vs. Connecticut 11
8 p.m. Virginia vs. Brigham Young 9
10 p.m. (approx.) Syracuse vs. Richmond 11,9
12:35 p.m. St. John's vs. Northern Illinois 11,9
p.m. (approx.) UCLA vs. Penn State 11,9
p.m. Towson State vs. Ohio State 11
p.m. Georgetown vs. Vanderbilt 9
10 p.m. (approx.) Princeton vs. Villanova 11,9