DAYTON, Ohio -- They walked on the floor considered nothing more than sacrificial lambs for a fifth-ranked Ohio State team playing before what was practically a home crowd at the University of Dayton Arena.
But by game's end, even the Buckeyes fans rose to their feet and showed their appreciation for Towson State, as the Tigers, although 97-86 losers, once again proved their worth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.
Trailing by 18 points with 12 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game, the East Coast Conference champions came back to within five after a jumper by Chuck Lightening with 5:48 left. But in the end Ohio State's size and depth played a major factor as the Midwest Regional's top seed advanced to tomorrow's second-round game against Georgia Tech, which defeated DePaul last night.
The Buckeyes (26-3) had six players in double figures, led by 24 points from Jim Jackson, an All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. The Buckeyes, who limped into the NCAA tournament with two losses at the end of the regular season, shot 55.6 percent from the field.
"I think we could have beaten a lot of teams tonight," Towson coach Terry Truax said. "Unfortunately, Ohio State wasn't one of them. Ohio State was able to get it inside and power it up. I'm just proud of the way my kids didn't back down."
No, the Tigers (19-11) didn't back down or buckle under the full-court pressure that Ohio State threw at them in the opening minutes. Neither did they quit when they fell behind, 64-56, with the Ohio State fans going crazy. The Tigers got back into the game by scoring on eight straight possessions and by putting the Buckeyes on the foul line, where they shot just 56.4 percent (22 of 39).
"They could have given up when they were down, but they really stuck with it," Jackson said. "I have a lot of respect for the way they played and attacked us offensively."
The Ohio State press, which consumed many a Big Ten team during the season, was no problem for the Tigers once they got the ball inbounds. Pushing the ball up, Towson was able to gain some advantage and some easy scores.
"The press was good enough to get them some turnovers, but I think we attacked it well," said Devin Boyd, who scored 17 points -- but was limited to just 21 minutes because of foul trouble. "Against anybody we play, we just go in and give it our best shot."
That best shot was good enough for a 13-9 Towson lead in the early going after Lightening hit a short jumper five minutes into the game. But the Buckeyes began to use their size advantage on the boards and in the lane. And by halftime, they had a 45-37 lead, with a 25-16 rebounding advantage.
After a driving layup by freshman center John James (game-high 11 rebounds) pulled Towson to within 45-39 at the start of the second half, Ohio State began to roll. Mixing their inside and outside game well, the Buckeyes ran off 10 straight points -- the final point on a technical foul on the Towson bench that also gave Ohio State the ball -- for a 55-39 lead with just over 18 minutes left.
"I was at the table telling the guys, 'All we ask is that you be consistent,' " said Towson assistant coach Michael Hunt, who was hit with the technical. "[Official Pete Pavia] said, 'Don't tell us about consistency' and called the tech. I never said a word to him."
Towson was down, but the expected knockout blow never was delivered, as the Tigers scrapped to within 75-70. But Towson -- which out-rebounded Ohio State, 27-19, in the second half -- was never able to get over the hump against the aggressive play of the Buckeyes.
Terrance Jacobs had 22 points, and Towson got another big performance by Lightening. The junior forward, who scored 29 against Billy Owens in a losing cause against Syracuse this season, led all scorers with 26.
"Coming into the game, I had a lot a lot of respect for him from the Syracuse game and other tapes I've seen of him," Jackson said. "He's only 6-foot-5, but he really took the ball to the hoop strong against me."
At game's end there were no long faces on the Towson bench.
"We go out there in these games thinking we're going to win," Lightening said. "I think we played very well. A lot of guys stepped up to do the job tonight."
EAST REGIONAL E. Michigan 76, Mississippi St. 56
pTC Penn State 74, UCLA 69
N. Carolina 101, Northeastern 66
Villanova 50, Princeton 48
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL Arkansas 117, Georgia State 76
Arizona State 79, Rutgers 76
Alabama 89, Murray State 79
Wake Forest 71, Louisiana Tech 65
St. John's 75, Northern Illinois 68
Texas 73, St. Peter's 65
Ohio State 97, Towson State 86
Georgia Tech 87, DePaul 70
WEST REGIONAL Michigan State 60, Wis.-G. Bay 58
Utah 82, South Alabama 72
Georgetown 70, Vanderbilt 60
UNLV 99, Montana 65
EAST REGIONAL Richmond vs. Temple, 12:15 p.m.*
Okla. St. vs. N.C. State, 2:30 p.m.*
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL Kansas vs. Pittsburgh, 4:50 p.m.
Indiana vs. Florida St., 7 p.m.*
MIDWEST REGIONAL Duke vs. Iowa, 4:30 p.m.*
Xavier vs. Connecticut, 7 p.m.
WEST REGIONAL Arizona vs. BYU, 2:20 p.m.
Seton Hall vs. Creighton, 4:50 p.m.
*--Chs. 11, 9
Coverage Pages 8-11C