DAYTON, Ohio -- Although Towson State drew the nation's No. 1 team in its National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament debut last year, coach Terry Truax did not have the concerns that are running through his mind going into tonight's game against fifth-ranked Ohio State.
"We had a better advantage because Oklahoma didn't have an imposing inside player," Truax said after yesterday's practice in preparation for tonight's first-round game of the Midwest Regional at the University of Dayton Arena. "Ohio State possesses more physical-ness than what we are used to."
And that's key to Towson State's chances as the 16th-seeded Tigers attempt to make NCAA tournament history against the the top-seeded Buckeyes. While there have been a few close calls, no first or second seed has lost a first-round game since the field was increased to 64 teams in 1985.
Ohio State center Perry Carter (6 feet 8, 230 pounds), and forwards Treg Lee (6-8, 235) and Jim Jackson (6-6, 210) probably can hold their own with members of the school's football team. Going against Towson freshman center John James (6-8, 190) and forwards Larry Brown (6-7, 223) and Chuck Lightening (6-5, 208), it's no mystery what area the Buckeyes have been working on all week.
"We have the experience on the front line, and Towson State is very young there," Ohio State coach Randy Ayers said. "We have to take advantage of our size and experience, and we'll look to get the ball inside to our big guys."
The Buckeyes are banking on the strategy to shake a late-season slump during which they lost two straight games and had to share the Big Ten title with Indiana. Still, they got the top seed in the Midwest and an opportunity to play before what is expected to be a pro-Ohio State crowd.
"If we go out and do what we have to do, we should come out with a win," Carter said. "We're slowly getting back to the Ohio State team that started the season. We'll have a big crowd supporting us and that can only help."
Despite the obvious disadvantages, Towson players were loose and confident during and after their one-hour practice.
"Everybody's excited that we're here," said Lewis Waller, the lone Towson senior. "We feel we can win if we play the way we're capable of."
The Tigers haven't been embarrassed in their past two games against top-five teams. The Oklahoma game was a 77-68 loss, and against third-ranked Syracuse in December, the Tigers played well before losing, 78-73.
Unlike last year, when Billy Tubbs' free spirits showed Towson no respect, the well-disciplined Buckeyes are coming in focused against what they say is a good Towson team.
"We watched the tape of the Syracuse game and, looking at Chuck Lightening, he's a very good player," said Jackson, the Big Ten's Player of the Year, of the Towson State small forward. "I really have my work cut out for me. I'm going to have to do a good job to try to contain him."
Added Carter, "They have excellent perimeter players and that will be our focus -- to stop those guys."
Although the Buckeyes are expected to press from the outset, the Tigers said that won't stop their offense from attacking.
"We had problems all year with the press, but we've had the time to prepare for theirs," Devin Boyd said. "We're going to attack it -- we won't be passive. By taking it right at them, hopefully we'll get some of their big men in trouble."
"They lost two close games, and now they'll come out fired up," Lightening said. "I know they'll come out with the attitude of roughing us up -- but it won't affect us at all."