Matt Campbell isn't the key to the success of the Towson State University men's basketball team this season, but the freshman has helped turn the knob to the door of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Tomorrow night, the Broadneck graduate and his fellow Tigers will try to become the first team in NCAA tournament history to knock off a No. 1 seed in the opening round when they meet Ohio State (25-3) in a Midwest regional contest at the Dayton Arena in Ohio.
"I never expected anything like this," said Campbell. "It's something I've watched on TV for years, but I never expected to be there."
With the Tigers (19-10) heading into Friday's 7:30 p.m. clash as the region's lowest seed and a 21 1/2 point underdog, the 6-foot-6 forward finds it appropriate to speak in guardedly optimistic tones.
"They have some big boys, and they're physical, but I think we matchup real well with them," said Campbell. "They have great athletes, so everyone has to make sure that we have no letups on defense. We know we're going to score our share of points, but the key will be slowing them down offensively. I think we can play with them."
In just his first season with the Tigers, Campbell already has shown Towson coach Terry Truax he can play at the collegiate level. He appeared in all 29 of the Tigers' games, earning East Coast Conference All-Rookieteam honors.
"I think Matt's exceeded all of our expectations," said Truax, who has guided his Tigers to two straight ECC tournament titles. "I only give scholarships to players who are good enough to play, and I'm not going to keep a guy on the bench just because of his age."
Truax's confidence in his freshman was apparent in Towson's 69-63 ECC tournament title win over Rider College. With a conference title on the line and a national television audience on hand, Campbell was at the foul line, facing a one-and-one opportunity with his team trailing by a point.
He pulled himself together and buried both ends to put his team ahead, 51-50. Just prior to netting the two critical free throws, Campbell had brought the capacity crowd at the Towson Center to its feet when he scored off an offensive rebound with 4 minutes, 50 seconds left to pull his team to within a point, 50-49.
Although he averages a not-so-remarkable 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, Campbell doesn't fret but simply defines his role on the ballclub.
"My job is to give Chuck (Lightening, the Tigers' star forward) some rest without letting the team lose any ground," said Campbell, the team's top free-throw shooter with a .786 average. "I got more and more confidence shooting from the outside as the season went on, but I still don't feel very comfortable doing it. It's something I have to work on in the off-season."
Campbell has struggled from the floor, connecting on just 35 of 92 attempts for a .380 shootingpercentage. He has hauled in 81 rebounds and registered 29 assists on the year. He scored a career-high nine points in victories at Navy,Central Connecticut, Bucknell and American University.
Broadneck coach Ken Kazmarek has been very impressed with his former standout.
"I'm extremely proud of Matt, and I think this is going to be a great experience for him," said Kazmarek. "I've seen Matt play in abouteight games this season, and each time I saw something positive."
Truax shares Kazmarek's assessment and said he is thankful to have him on his squad.
"Even if Matt were a lesser basketball prospect, we still would want him to come to Towson State, because he's just a great kid," said Truax.
"We're just glad he's in a Towson uniform and not wearing the uniform of someone we have to play."
With the Tigers already having faced such talented squads as Maryland, Alabama, Virginia and Syracuse, Campbell denies prognostications that his team will be simply outclassed.
"Playing Syracuse close gave us a lot of confidence this season," said Campbell, referring to the Tigers'78-73 strong showing against the Orangeman Dec. 20 in Hershey. Pa.
"We showed that we can play with the better teams in the country. We know we have the ability to knock someone off.
"As long as we come out to play, I think we should give them a good game. Nobody wantsto go out and get embarrassed by Ohio State."