Towson State perseveres, gets past Liberty in overtime, 79-78

February 08, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht XTC | Gary Lambrecht XTC,Sun Staff Writer

Towson State survived several offensive droughts, saw its hottest player go scoreless after halftime, and nearly let victory slip away after taking control against Liberty early in the second half last night.

But the Tigers, showing the resilience that has helped them climb atop the Big South Conference standings, came back from a late 71-68 deficit on a three-point play by freshman guard Michael Keyes to force overtime.

After senior center John James turned a pass from Ralph Blalock into a go-ahead layup with 41 seconds left in OT, Liberty guard Matt Hildebrand missed a 25-footer in the closing seconds. And after center Jason Dixon's follow-up shot failed to fall, time expired during a scramble for the rebound and Towson State escaped with a 79-78 victory before 1,072 at the Towson Center.

The Tigers (14-7, 9-2) extended their winning streak to six, won their ninth game in 10 attempts, and took their 17th consecutive victory at the Towson Center. They also did it without coach Terry Truax. Truax served a one-game suspension for publicly criticizing an official after a victory over UMBC last week.

"I guess the guys really wanted me to work for that one," said Towson State assistant Jim Meil, who coached the Tigers in Truax's absence. "We lost a little concentration in the second half. There were a couple of times when we just didn't bear down on offense."

The Tigers started the night by scoring one point and missing five of six free throws in the first five minutes. After regaining their footing to take a 41-36 halftime lead, and then extending their advantage to 52-42 early in the second half, the offense stalled again. Over the final eight minutes of regulation, Towson State managed only two baskets.

Meanwhile, Liberty, led by the outside shooting of Hildebrand (16 points, six assists) and Darryl Williams (12 points, four three-pointers) and the inside strength of Dixon (16 points, 16 rebounds), came back to take its first lead of the second half, 66-65, on a three-pointer by Williams with 1:50 left.

Two free throws by Jody Chapman gave the Flames (10-10, 7-5) a 71-68 lead with 35 seconds left in regulation, and things didn't look good for the Tigers. But Keyes, who came off the bench to score 12 points, drove to the basket and was fouled making a layup. Keyes converted the free throw to tie the score at 71, sending the game into overtime.

"In the beginning of the season, we might have folded, but we're all confident in ourselves now. We let ourselves get down, and we had to pick ourselves back up," Keyes said.

Keyes, who also grabbed three rebounds, added two assists and did not commit a turnover in 28 minutes, was one of several reserveswho picked up Towson State. Senior forward Tom Caldwell produced six points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 12 minutes.

The Tigers also negated Liberty's size advantage -- the Flames out-rebounded Towson State, 45-34 -- by forcing 18 turnovers, while committing only eight miscues.

Scooter Alexander (game-high 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals) scored the first four points of the extra period to give Towson State a 75-71 lead. But Hildebrand, who scored all seven of Liberty's overtime points, hit three straight baskets, the last a three-pointer to give the Flames a 78-77 lead with 56 seconds left.

Blalock, who was coming off a career-high 27-point effort against Radford but went scoreless after recording 12 first-half points, then made a perfect pass to James for the game-winner.

James finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and two blocked shots. His second block midway through the second half gave him a school-record 230 for his career.

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