UMBC, Towson square off

February 27, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

Towson State plays at UMBC today (3:30 p.m.) in the regular-season finale for both teams, but the rivals can be excused for looking ahead to the Big South Conference tournament in Charleston, S.C., next week.

The game has more meaning for the Retrievers, who can clinch fifth place with a victory, but either way the outcome won't have that big an impact on their tournament draw. UMBC (11-14, 7-8) will face Campbell or Liberty in the quarterfinals Thursday, and the Retrievers have beaten the latter and want another shot at the former.

Towson State (17-8, 13-2) wrapped up regular-season honors and the No. 1 seed last week, and coach Terry Truax acknowledges that the Tigers have taken it easy since getting home from Radford on Tuesday morning at 4.

"We're where we want to be," Truax said. "It's a much bigger game for UMBC because they need it from a psychological standpoint to believe they can beat us. I don't make a big deal out of their having the home-court advantage. After where we've been the last three weeks, it will be nice to face only a half-hour bus ride after the game."

For the fifth time in their past seven games, the Tigers will be on the road, but they're on an eight-game win streak that began with an 82-76 defeat of the Retrievers at the Towson Center on Feb. 3.

Towson State has won six of its past seven meetings, the only loss coming at UMBC in December 1991 in the first round of the Beltway Classic. The Tigers returned to the UMBC Fieldhouse at the end of last season, when they claimed their third straight East Coast Conference championship. Both universities moved their athletic programs to the Big South for the 1992-93 year.

The pursuit of several Division I milestones should give Towson State incentive. The Tigers are two victories shy of last year's 10-game winning streak, the best in their 12-year Division I history, and Towson State never has won 20 games in a season at that level.

It will be the final home game for a UMBC senior class that includes point guard Dana Harris, forward Brian Watkins and reserve big man Emmanuel Fasaye. The Retrievers have had more downs than ups since that group arrived, but UMBC has won four of its past five -- the only loss a two-pointer at Liberty last Saturday -- and needs one more victory to match the best record it has had since 1988-89.

"Gradually, we've been putting the pieces together," Retrievers coach Earl Hawkins said. "Beating Towson would give us the edge we need going into the tournament, but our big guys have to score better against them."

The UMBC starting front line of Watkins, junior center Sonique Nixon and sophomore forward Artie Walker shot a combined 5-for-23 in the Feb. 3 loss at Towson State. Walker will miss his seventh straight game with a leg injury that has him doubtful for the tournament.

Towson State also had to fill a hole in its substitution pattern when junior forward Andrew Mason was suspended last week for violating a team policy. In two games since, freshman Ralph Blalock has scored 25 points as the second player at small forward behind junior Matt Campbell.

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