Towson is host with most, stuns Louisville

January 31, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

The fans who charged onto the Towson Center floor and mobbed the home team last night probably still could not believe what they had just witnessed.

Did Towson State really come from behind and make it look shockingly easy while pulling away from Louisville, 81-69? Did the Tigers really put away a team represented by two NCAA championships, not to mention Denny Crum, its legendary coach? How did the Tigers, 2-6 in the lightly regarded Big South Conference, do it? How could they do it?

The Tigers stunned visiting Louisville after blinking early, when the Cardinals eased out to a 27-16 lead. They responded when guard DeRon Robinson came off the bench to spark a run that pulled the Tigers within 36-33 at the break.

And they finished the job with Robinson showing the way with the game of his life. Robinson, a sophomore who has battled for playing time since coming to Towson State, scored a career-high 20 points and made the pressure shots look routine down the stretch, as Towson State staged a game-ending 26-9 run to beat the visiting Cardinals before 4,281 delirious spectators.

"I haven't had a win like this since high school. This is my best moment," Robinson said.

"I don't think they [Louisville] had enough respect for us. All of my friends kept telling me that we were going to get blown out. I just told them that this is our house. I kept telling my teammates that we have to protect the house."

Towson State's 22-game home winning streak was broken earlier this month by Big South rival Radford. The Tigers (8-9) were expected to start another winning streak, but only after playing Louisville, which two months ago agreed to play here in exchange for two Towson State visits to Kentucky, the first of them next December.

Then again, this is not a Cardinals squad that prompts comparisons to the teams that won national titles for Crum in 1980 and 1986. No, this Louisville team (12-8), stuck in the middle of the Metro Conference at 3-4, is the youngest Crum has had in 24 years there. Ten of Crum's 12 scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores.

Still, Louisville figured to give the Tigers fits with its height and athleticism, which the Cardinals did in the opening minutes. But Towson State, which started only one guard -- Ralph Blalock -- to counter the Cardinals' size, found better results when coach Terry Truax leaned on his guards more.

Gradually, the Tigers got back into the game by forcing turnovers, beating the Cardinals to loose balls, and slashing to the basket to create trips to the foul line.

They also buckled down to play stiff defense at the end of each half. They helped the Cardinals miss five of their last seven shots to end the first half, when the Tigers closed within 36-33. The Tigers then limited Louisville to one basket in its last nine attempts before the final horn.

And the Tigers, who entered the game fifth in the nation in free-throw shooting (76.4 percent), won the game on the line, hitting 12 of their final 14 free-throw attempts in the last eight minutes. Robinson hit seven of eight in that span.

"If you aren't ready to play, you aren't going to play well," Crum said. "Towson played well, played smart. They took care of the ball, shot well, controlled the tempo and played good defense. They beat us every way you can."

Truax said: "This is particularly special, for two reasons. One, it was at the Towson Center. Two, to get a name coach like Denny Crum makes it better, although I'm not looking forward to going to Freedom Hall in December.

"The key was we played uninhibited. We played to win, instead of playing not to lose."

It was probably the sweetest victory Towson State has enjoyed at home, or anywhere, for that matter.

And it couldn't have happened without Robinson, who revived a sluggish lineup that was relying too heavily on its star, Blalock, who produced a game-high 26 points. When Robinson entered the game with five minutes gone, the Tigers trailed 9-8. They would fall behind 27-16 before Robinson sparked the Tigers with his quick hands and aggressive moves to the basket. He scored eight points in a four-minute stretch to help the Tigers tie the score at 29 late in the first half.

And in the second half, when Truax stuck with a smaller, quicker lineup that harassed the bigger Cardinals, Robinson made the game's critical shots.

Louisville had moved to a 57-52 lead with 9:48 left on a jam by center Samaki Walker, when Robinson converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 57-55. Two minutes later, he brought the roaring crowd to its feet by hitting both ends of a one-and-one to give the Tigers a 60-59 lead with 7:51 to go, marking Towson's first lead of the half.

After that, the Tigers ran their offense flawlessly, hitting open jumpers, working for backdoor layups and going to the foul line. The Tigers hit 59.1 percent of their 22 second-half shots, and converted 19 of 22 free-throw attempts in the second half.

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