Towson State's chances of gaining the No. 1 seeding in the North Atlantic Conference tournament have dimmed, but that didn't lessen the importance of last night's game against New Hampshire.
The Tigers weren't concerned with reaching the top of the
standings. They just wanted to hold their ground.
They were able to do just that, getting 17 points from senior Ralph Blalock and 15 each from two others, and overcoming the absence of their second-leading scorer in a sloppy, 79-70 victory over the Wildcats at the Towson Center.
Towson State (13-8, 9-4) is tied for third with Maine, a half-game behind Boston and three behind first-place Drexel, which defeated the Tigers by nine points Thursday night. The Tigers play Maine at home tomorrow.
"We're not thinking of catching Drexel now," said coach Terry Truax, "just putting ourselves in position for a good seeding in the tournament."
The return of senior guard Scooter Alexander can only help.
Alexander, who was averaging 12.2 points, sprained his ankle against Drexel and didn't play last night. He may be available tomorrow, Truax said.
The Wildcats were hurting even more because senior guard Matt Alosa (23.1 ppg) was out with an arm injury.
Sophomore forward Brad Cirino scored 19 points, eight above his season's average, but Alosa was sorely missed.
With Alexander on the bench in street clothes, Blalock moved to guard, where he played last season. Center Stevie Thomas (15 points) switched to forward and sophomore Ryan Lexer made his second start in the middle.
Lexer picked up his second foul 2:12 into the game and was replaced by junior Matt Dellinger (10 points), who began the season as a starter. By the end, every Towson player who suited up except one had played.
It was a group effort, and it didn't dazzle anyone. Towson's play was ragged, and New Hampshire (5-16, 4-9) was a constant threat, even after falling behind by 12 at halftime.
The Tigers would look ready to distance themselves from the Wildcats, then let the visitors creep back. This wasn't toying with a team; it was torturing a coach.
Truax watched nervously as New Hampshire's 10-2 run got the lead down to one with less than 10 minutes remaining. The Wildcats kept getting inside, and they kept getting closer.
Finally, they moved ahead 59-58 on a layup by Cirino off a Towson State turnover. And after Lexer scored off the glass to put the Tigers back in front, New Hampshire's Joe Provost tied it with a free throw.
That's when Towson State finally shook free.
Blalock scored twice for a 64-60 lead with 4:14 left. Thomas blocked a shot, and Michael Keyes (15 points, four steals) passed to Ralph Biggs for a layup and a six-point advantage. It wasn't much, but it was enough to end a two-game slide.
"For the most part, we got a better effort tonight than in the last two games," Truax said. "But defensively, we gambled too much and gave up some easy baskets."
"We set the tempo early," said Blalock, who had four assists and four steals, "but we got a little lackadaisical in the second half."
New Hampshire would have posed more of a threat if it hadn't shot 46 percent from the line, making 12 of 26 attempts. The Tigers were 18-for-23 (78 percent).