Towson seeks quick results

December 23, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Towson State basketball coach Terry Truax has endured his share of early-season uphill battles.

This season, Truax has watched his team suffer routs against Connecticut and Massachusetts, both nationally ranked. Last week, Coppin State shook the Tigers by dominating down the stretch and pulling away to a 13-point victory. In each case, the Tigers were undone by an opponent that exploited their lack of bulk and quickness, particularly inside.

As the Tigers (4-4) prepare to take on the Maryland Terrapins (5-1) tonight at the Baltimore Arena, Truax acknowledged that his team faces the same problems.

"It's a very difficult matchup for us," Truax said. "We can only match up with Maryland's quickness at a couple of positions. They [the Terps] have lots of quickness, they play with great effort and they're pretty physical in the frontcourt."

The Terps' quickness figures to give Towson State its biggest headaches when the Tigers have the ball. The Tigers are averaging 18 turnovers, and with the exceptions of Massachusetts and Connecticut, they have not faced the kind of pressure that Maryland will throw at them.

Then there's the Joe Smith dilemma. What will Towson State do about the Terps' 6-foot-9 center, who has garnered as many accolades as any freshman in the country? Smith leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 22.7-point average. He also has averaged 9.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks, both team highs.

"During the Coppin game, I thought about putting A.D. [assistant coach Adrian Dantley] in to guard Stephen Stewart [who scored a game-high 28 points]. Maybe I'll try that against Smith," Truax said.

"Smith is obviously going to be a big problem for us," he added. "The key with Maryland is you have to make them execute their offense. Keep it to a half-court game and make them work for their points. That means [Towson forward] Stevie Thomas has to have a big game."

NTC Thomas, a 6-7 sophomore who played at Walbrook, probably will guard Smith if Towson State employs a man-to-man defense. But the Tigers figure to try plenty of zone defenses to deny Smith the ball and force the Terps to beat them with perimeter shooting.

Along with Smith, 6-6 freshman forward Keith Booth (11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds) and 6-8 sophomore forward Exree Hipp (17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds) present more problems -- Hipp with his explosive moves to the basket and Booth with his rugged play inside.

That trio will put intense pressure on Thomas, Matt Campbell (7.8 points, 3.8 rebounds) and John James (7.8 points, 7.6 rebounds).

Booth returns to his hometown tonight to play for the first time since graduating from Dunbar earlier this year. The game also gives him the chance to compete against Towson State junior guard Scooter Alexander, a former teammate at Dunbar. They played together for two seasons in the early 1990s.

"It's going to be great coming home to play in front of my family and friends," Booth said. "I have a few memories of this place. I played in a couple of Metro Classic games here.

"I'm looking forward to going at Scooter. I don't think there will be any trash-talking, because we both have a lot of respect for each other's game. We grew up playing against each other in summer rec leagues. I'd like to wish him a lot of luck. But he can't get the win."

If the Tigers intend to pull off an upset, they need another big game from their backcourt of Alexander and sophomore point guard Ralph Blalock, who form the backbone of the team.

They are the only two players who are scoring consistently in double figures. Alexander, who soon will climb into the school's top 10 in career scoring, averages a team-high 19.0 points. In his last game, 12 days ago at Delaware, he scored a career-high 30.

Blalock (16.6 points) has been on fire. In his past five games, he has averaged 20.8 points. He is coming off a career-high, 26-point night at Coppin State last week.

"When you have good guards, you have a chance in any game. They [Towson] proved that against St. John's and Dayton with Alexander and Blalock," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who downplayed the Terps' advantages.

One factor that could come into play tonight is the layoff each team has had while taking final exams. Towson State has not played in 10 days. The Terps have been off for 16 days since losing their only game, at Oklahoma. It could make for a sloppy game.

"The game coming out of exams is always tough," Williams said. "I think you might see mistakes on both sides."

TONIGHT'S GAME

Towson (4-4) at Maryland (5-1)

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 8

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WITH (1230 AM)

Tickets: Approximately 3,000 remain, mostly upper level ($5). Maryland's nine remaining games at Cole Field House are sold out.

Outlook: The Tigers' biggest problems will be containing Maryland's inside offense and dealing with the Terps' quickness. Joe Smith, Maryland's 6-foot-9 center and one of the nation's top freshmen, presents Towson State with its most pressing concern. Smith leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 22.7-point average and leads the Terps with 9.7 rebounds a game. Maryland's other freshman, 6-6 F Keith Booth (11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg), makes his first Baltimore-area appearance since graduating from Dunbar earlier this year. Towson State has relied heavily on its backcourt, and the Tigers will look for more outstanding efforts from junior G Scooter Alexander and sophomore G Ralph Blalock. Alexander (19.0 ppg) returns after missing last week's 76-63 loss to Coppin State game with a sprained ankle. Blalock (16.6 ppg) has played superbly in his past five games.

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