Devin Boyd, the East Coast Conference's No. 2 scorer, was on the Towson State University bench yesterday, dressed but ailing with a case of the flu.
The league's top scorer, Obet Vazquez of Central Connecticut, was on the opposite bench in street clothes, the victim of an injured knee and not available to play.
It took little more than 10 minutes to realize the Tigers would weather their loss much more easily than the undermanned Blue Devils.
Towson remained unbeaten in the ECC and clinched at least a share of the regular-season title with an 84-76 victory at the Towson Center that was more routine than inspiring.
Coupled with Hofstra's 70-61 loss to Drexel, the triumph gave the Tigers (15-7, 9-0) a three-game lead with three to play. They need only to win one of their three remaining conference games to clinch a bye for the first round of the ECC tournament here starting March 2.
"It's going to take a hell of a team to beat them in this league," said Central Connecticut coach Mike Brown. "They're well-coached, experienced and you can see the confidence in them from last year's success."
The Blue Devils (4-18, 2-6) never got unwound without Vazquez, who averaged 22 points and 7.6 rebounds a game before suffering ligament damage to his knee in Thursday night's victory at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
They committed 14 turnovers and surrendered 19 points to the Towson bench in the first half and never got back into the game.
With a 75-53 lead and less than five minutes to play, Towson coach Terry Truax cleared his bench for the final time.
Truax wasn't happy that the Blue Devils steadily whittled it down until the finish. "We expected to do a lot better," he said.
It was only the second non-start for Boyd, who was taken out of the opening lineup for violating a team rule before the Blue Angels Classic in late December. He had a team-high 28 points in the Tigers' 82-72 win at Central Connecticut on Jan. 12.
"If I had to, I could have played, especially against a good team," said Boyd.
Brown said losing Vazquez "is like taking [Larry] Bird away from the Celtics or [Charles] Barkley away from the 76ers. He's our go-to guy and it hurt.
"But we really didn't have time to simulate the kind of pressure Towson was going to throw at us after playing Thursday night. We just had a walk-through Friday. They turned on the defense and we couldn't pass, run or shoot."
Freshman Tom Caldwell, in his first start, and sophomore guard Craig Valentine had a career-high 10 points each for the Tigers. Chuck Lightening led the way with 19 points.