Was that glass half empty, or half full?
Coach Terry Truax might have been pondering some philosophical questions after Towson State's home opener last night. Along with 1,531 others at the Towson Center, he enjoyed plenty of Tiger positives and shook his head at nearly as many negatives, but he got to savor a 99-97 victory over Lehigh that was just the tonic for a Tiger squad looking for direction in the absence of injured point guard Devin Boyd.
"That's not our way of playing," Truax said in reference to the Tigers' matador defensive stance in the paint, but the ninth-year coach still had to like plenty of what he saw against a foe favored to win the Patriot League. After close calls at Colorado and North Carolina, Towson State (1-2) had had enough of moral victories.
Taking the good with the bad:
* Truax was displeased with the Tigers' defense close to the basket, as Lehigh (2-2) forward Bob Krizansky and center Dozie Mbonu combined for 59 points on 23 of from the field. As a team, Lehigh was 38-56, 67.9 percent. However, pressure on the perimeter created 26 Engineer turnovers and just as many easy baskets for the Tigers.
* The Tigers also were guilty of 25 fouls, but their own free-throw shooting was a definite plus. Towson State shot 56.7 percent from the line in its first two games, but canned 21 of 26 (80.8 percent) last night.
* Towson State still couldn't hold on to a lead, as the Tigers had bulges of 69-58 and 97-88, the latter with 2:34 remaining. Young mistakes might have been evident as that lead frittered away. Conversely, freshman Terrance Alexander and sophomore big men John James and Matt Campbell had major roles in building those bulges.
* Until the second week in January, the closest Boyd will get to a court is doing radio commentary. He took 89 games of experience with him when he fractured an elbow in the season opener, but the Tigers still have seniors to go to, as Chuck Lightening reiterated with five seconds left, when he dropped a game-winning 19-footer over Jerome Hipps to help the Tigers avoid their first 0-3 start since 1978.
A senior forward who always comes up big against the Tigers' toughest opponents, Lightening finished with 25 points, shared game-high honors with five rebounds and had a team-high five assists. His improvisation capped a night when the Tigers unveiled new uniforms and a different defensive look that is going to cause problems for most backcourts.
"It wasn't a designed play for me at the end," said Lightening, who was as perplexed with the Tigers' inability to protect a lead as Truax. "I don't know what the problem is. We've got to keep the pressure on all the time. When we get a lead, we can't let up."
Truax said the Tigers were going to take advantage of their quickness and depth by pressing more this season. Towson State's full- and half-court traps created those 26 Lehigh turnovers, but when the Engineers found the right lanes, they usually had a lay-in, Krizansky's three-pointer with 8:40 remaining being their first bucket beyond 10 feet.
"Defensively, we gave up just too many easy baskets," Truax said. "We're going to play more pressure this year, but we're going to have to make it more effective than we did tonight."
Lehigh wasn't exactly Duke at the defensive end either, as Towson State hit 61.1 percent in the second half. Terrance Jacobs had 18 points, backcourt mate Alexander had 17, and sophomores James and Campbell had career highs of 12 and 11, respectively. Truax also got short but solid stints from other reserves; junior guard Craig Valentine made all three of his shots.
Now the Tigers head into this weekend's Beltway Classic at UMBC looking for their third straight title there. The Tigers play just one of their next 13 games at the Towson Center, and the two-time East Coast Conference champions needed to get over the hump at home before traveling to the likes of Maryland, Southern Methodist and Tennessee.