Packed between a highly emotional loss at Delaware and another top-notch road game against a name team, Virginia, yesterday's Towson State game was positioned uncomfortably for coach Terry Truax.
"I was afraid of this game," said Truax after the Tigers survived a tough test and beat Youngstown State, 80-75, at the Towson Center.
"This was a dangerous team for us to play under the circumstances. They'd easily be in the top division in our league and they're athletic enough to pose real problems. This was a big win for us."
Nothing came easily for the East Coast Conference regular-season champions, who couldn't eliminate the Penguins until Devin Boyd sank two free throws with seven seconds remaining for the final margin.
But it was typical of a Towson team that has played seven home games decided by five or fewer points.
"I don't think anyone underestimated Youngstown," said Lewis Waller, who played in his last regular-season game at home. "We knew they were capable athletically. We were just better last year at putting teams away."
The first half, dotted by 31 turnovers, was a real struggle for both teams, which had never met on the basketball court.
But both upgraded their play in a seesaw second half that included nine lead changes, the last when Waller drove to the basket to give Towson (17-9) the lead for good with 5 minutes, 37 seconds to play.
Boyd followed with a three-point basket and the Penguins never got closer than three afterward. But two three-pointers in the final 17 seconds kept them alive before Boyd (21 points) knocked down the clinching free throws.
It didn't help Towson that forward Chuck Lightening missed the first 12 minutes after "not planning well," according to Truax. "He was a late arrival. That reflects the team's preparation for today. This is no time to be scatterbrained."
But after Lightening entered, he scored 12 of the Tigers' final 16 points in the first half, three on dunks, enabling them to stay in the lead.
He also helped to counter the effectiveness inside of Youngstown's Tim Jackson and Bob Fick, who combined for 16 of 22 from the floor.
The Penguins (11-15) forged in front, 55-50 and 57-52, midway through the second half, prompting Truax to wonder anew about his team.
"We get down and all of a sudden, we play," he said. "We're a different team. Still, we have overachieved according to preseason expectations. I'd just like to see the quality of our play getting better."