Big 2nd half lifts Towson to 64-56 win

March 05, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- For a while yesterday, it appeared Towson State might suffer a painful, deja vu experience.

Last year, the Tigers entered the Big South tournament as the top seed and departed quickly with a first-round loss to Winthrop. Yesterday, the Tigers rolled into the North Charleston Coliseum as the Big South's top seed again, and this time eighth-seeded UNC-Asheville nearly foiled their plans for a trip to the NCAA tournament.

But the Tigers, behind the reliable backcourt of Ralph Blalock and Scooter Alexander, did not allow another upset. Blalock and Alexander combined for 21 points over the final seven minutes, and Towson State gradually put away the Bulldogs with a 64-56 victory.

The win sends the Tigers (21-8) into tonight's 6 o'clock semifinal against Liberty, which defeated Charleston Southern, 82-71, in other quarterfinal action. A victory tonight will move the Tigers to Monday's championship game, the winner of which will receive an automatic bid to the national tournament.

In the regular season, Towson beat the fourth-seeded Flames (16-11) twice, including a 79-78 overtime victory at the Towson Center last month.

Yesterday's quarterfinal win produced some nervous moments for the Tigers, who suffered through poor, first-half shooting and got flustered by UNC-Asheville's disciplined, half-court game. The result was a first half that ended with Towson State in front, 20-17, and with Tigers coach Terry Truax drawing a technical foul.

After the Tigers' lowest offensive output in a half -- Towson State made only eight of 26 shots (30.8 percent) -- the Bulldogs took a 21-20 lead to start the second half, then stayed close for the next 10 minutes. With 9:20 left, Towson State held a 36-33 lead.

"They outplayed us in the first half," Truax said. "They ran their offense better than we did. Part of it is because they are well-coached, and part of it is because we were pressing. There is added pressure on the high seeds in this tournament.

"The technical was a combination of me trying to urge our team to exert a better effort and me having a bad day. We just weren't sharp today. We're capable of playing so much better. I kept looking for us to take control."

Truax got his wish in crunch time, when Blalock and Alexander stepped up as they have so often this season. Yesterday, they showed why they were named to the All-Big South team.

Alexander, the junior who earned first-team honors for the second straight year, scored 18 points, including 12 in the second half.

Blalock, a sophomore who picked up his first postseason honor by making the all-conference second team, scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Blalock also grabbed eight rebounds, added two assists, two steals and made all nine of his free-throw attempts. He has made his past 25 foul shots.

"We really wanted to win this game, especially because of the upset last year," Blalock said.

Blalock started the Tigers' decisive run with a pair of fast-break layups that gave Towson State a 44-36 lead with 6:24 left, its largest lead at that point.

After the Bulldogs cut the lead to 46-40 on two free throws by Keith Carter (eight points), Alexander banked in a 12-footer, and Blalock followed with two free throws and a three-point play.

That gave the Tigers a 53-42 advantage with 3:22 left. At that point, visions of another Winthrop experience began to fade. Alexander and Blalock then combined to go 8-for-9 on free throws to secure the victory. They also sparked the Tigers to 52 percent shooting in the second half.

"They [the Bulldogs] are very disciplined. We're not going to blow them out of the gym. We know that," Alexander said. "We had to come out in the second half and dictate at our pace more."

Forward Eric Evans and guard Robert Thompson led the Bulldogs with 12 points apiece. For Towson State, forward Matt Campbell had seven points and six rebounds. Center John James added four points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

N.C. ASHEVILLE -- Gay 4-5 0-0 9, Joyner 1-5 2-4 4, Evans 5-8 2-5 12, Carter 3-13 2-2 8, Kohn 3-13 2-2 9, Thompson 4-9 1-2 12, Gower 0-0 0-0 0, Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0, Dehaan 0-1 0-0 0, O'Neill 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 21-57 9-15 56.

TOWSON STATE -- Blalock 7-12 9-9 24, Campbell 1-6 5-6 7, James 2-4 0-1 4, Alexander 7-16 4-5 18, Moody 0-4 0-0 0, Caldwell 0-1 0-0 0, Mason 0-0 0-0 0, Keyes 2-5 0-0 5, Thomas 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 21-51 20-23 64.

Halftime--Towson State 20, N.C. Asheville 17. 3-point goals--N.C. Asheville 5-18 (Thompson 3-5, Gay 1-2, Kohn 1-9, Carter 0-2), Towson State 2-7 (Blalock 1-2, Keyes 1-2, Moody 0-1, Campbell 0-2). Fouled out--N.C. Asheville, Thompson, Carter. Rebounds--N.C. Asheville 31 (Evans 11), Towson State 40 (James 10). Assists--N.C. Asheville 10 (Gay 3), Towson State 11 (James 3). Total fouls--N.C. Asheville 19, Towson State 12. Technical--Towson coach Truax. A--NA.

HONORS FOR TIGERS

Towson State junior guard Scooter Alexander (Dunbar) was named to the Big South All-Conference first team, and Tigers coach Terry Truax was named Co-Coach of the Year with Campbell coach Billy Lee.

Alexander, who is making his second straight appearance on the all-conference team, averaged 17.6 points and 1.7 steals per game for the conference regular-season champions. Truax, who led the Tigers to their first 20-win season, won the Big South Coach of the Year award last year.

Others on the first team include Campbell senior forward Joe Spinks, who also was selected as the Player of the Year, Coastal Carolina junior guard KeKe Hicks, Radford senior forward Don Burgess and Liberty senior guard Matt Hildebrand.

Towson State sophomore guard Ralph Blalock received second-team honors and Tigers guard Michael Keyes was named to the all-rookie squad.

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