All signs pointed to a Towson State blowout last night.
The Tigers were at the Towson Center, where they had won 11 straight, and were playing Charleston Southern, headed to its fifth losing record in six seasons. After eight minutes, the young Buccaneers were down by nine and on the ropes.
Towson State sweated the entire 40 minutes, however, and didn't pull away until the last two minutes for an 84-76 Big South Conference victory that was watched by 121 fans who ignored the elements.
"I don't think anything comes easily to us," senior center John James said. "After we beat St. John's [in the Preseason NIT], people expected us to beat everyone, but it's not going to be that way. Right now, our goal is to keep winning so we get a chance to play for first place at Campbell."
Their third straight win began an important week in the Big South for coach Terry Truax's Tigers (8-6, 3-1), who will try to extend their Towson Center winning streak to 13 when they play UMBC tomorrow (7:30 p.m.). Towson State then travels to North Carolina to face league leader Campbell Saturday and UNC-Greensboro next Monday.
Charleston Southern (3-9, 1-4) has had to replace its leader of the past two seasons, Baltimorean Darnell Sneed, but with a transfer from Clemson, a sophomore and four freshmen among their top seven scorers, the Buccaneers are not without potential.
Towson State ran off nine straight points for an early 17-8 lead, but Charleston Southern more than answered four minutes later with a 13-0 spurt.
The Tigers were in command again in the second half, but committed four turnovers in 49 seconds that allowed the Buccaneers to go on top 56-55 with 10:44 left. James' follow basket put the Tigers ahead for good, and after a pair of hustling baskets by freshman guard Michael Keyes, who's playing with a broken nose, Charleston Southern never again had a chance to tie.
After making only 41.7 percent of their shots in the first half, Towson State had better results against Charleston Southern's pressure in the second half, when they got easier shots and hit 60.7 percent (17 of 28). The Tigers also made their first 12 free throws.
Sophomore guard Ralph Blalock led Towson State with 24 points -- 16 in the first half -- and nine rebounds. James had 18 points and six rebounds, junior guard Scooter Alexander got 10 of his 14 points in the second half, and senior forward Matt Campbell chipped in 11. Campbell and Alexander had nine rebounds apiece.
The Buccaneers, who hope to be a factor at the Big South tournament, which will be played at the North Charleston (S.C.) Coliseum, got 18 points from freshman forward Jeff Daniels and 17 from Eric Burks, the transfer from Clemson.
The southernmost member of the Big South had a lost weekend in the conference's northernmost city.
The Buccaneers lost at UMBC Saturday, and had the winter storm cancel tours of Washington, D.C. Sunday and Camden Yards yesterday. Weather permitting, they were to start a long bus ride home this morning.
"The hardest part was getting out here this morning for shoot-around," coach Gary Edwards said. "It took us an hour and a half for the bus to drive from downtown to here,"