The Buckeyes and Tigers meet tonight (7:40, Channel 11, WBAL-AM 1090) in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional at the University of Dayton Arena. Ohio State (25-3) was regarded as the nation's second-best team before ending its regular season with two road losses. Towson State (19-10) resides in the bottom half of the Division I ratings.
Both teams depend on their youth. The Buckeyes rely on just two seniors and revolve around a sophomore. The Tigers have just one senior and look to a junior for leadership. That's where the similarities stop.
There is more than four inches separating Ohio State's Jim Jackson and Towson State's Devin Boyd. A 6-foot-6 forward, Jackson is a second-team All-America, yet one who has to be prodded to shoot. The 6-2 Boyd is thought of as a point guard, but no other Tiger has shot as much. Jackson enjoys playing up his teammates, but if Boyd doesn't score, the Tigers don't win.
Boyd is the East Coast Conference Player of the Year. His most recent pressure shot was a post-up, three-point play that helped beat Rider in the East Coast Conference title game.
Jackson? In Columbus, the final minutes of a game are known as "JJ Time." The Big Ten Player of the Year, his heroics have come against the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana, the team the Buckeyes swept to sew up one of the top four regional seeds. Career victories seemed to come every two weeks for Jackson this winter.
Boyd still is looking for that one monumental upset that will establish Towson State as something more than an ECC pacesetter.
"It's not surprising that we don't get much respect, because we really haven't beaten a big school yet," Boyd said. "I'm tired of just coming close to the big schools. I want to beat one of them."
In Boyd's third collegiate game, he held his own against Virginia's John Crotty. In last year's closer-than-it-looked NCAA loss to then No. 1 Oklahoma, he failed to score. Boyd had 18 points and 10 assists in this season's most notable uphill climb, a five-point loss to then No. 3 Syracuse.
At Walbrook High, Boyd was little known outside Baltimore City. A McDonald's All-American and two-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio, Jackson is a folk hero in Toledo. He was one of the few freshmen invited to the U.S. tryouts for last summer's World Championships and Goodwill Games. He isn't going to the NBA next year, but what Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Anderson are to the nation's sophomore centers and guards, Jackson is to the second-year forwards.
He also is good to his teammates, and his supporting cast is what separates him most from Boyd. Perhaps Ohio State's most versatile player since John Havlicek, Jackson gets his greatest enjoyment from making others look good, and that's not all that difficult.
Ohio State's vaunted front line wasn't up to snuff in those late losses at Purdue and Iowa, and the Buckeyes talked yesterday about reasserting their inside superiority when they play the smaller Tigers. Chuck Lightening's numbers actually match up decently with Jackson's at small forward, but the Buckeyes could overwhelm Towson State at the center and power forward spots.
Perry Carter, Ohio State's senior center, goes 6-8, 230, and senior forward Treg Lee checks in at 6-8, 235. Junior forward Chris Jent is 6-7, 225, and sophomore center Bill Robinson is 7-0, 250. Jackson is a muscle-bound 220.
Towson State, which is 6-8 (190), 6-7 and 6-5 across the front line, gets the picture.
"We have the bulk and the size," Jackson said. "If you look at the key games we won, we established ourselves inside, and that allowed our outside game to open up."
Lightening, 6-5 and 208 pounds, isn't intimidated, even if he is the only Towson State inside player averaging more than four points.
"I've played against Billy Owens and Bryant Stith this year," Lightening said. "Jackson is another All-American I have to play against. I'm not scared, and I don't think our freshmen are going to get too nervous."
Another factor in Ohio State's success has been its fullcourt pressure; opponents average more than 20 turnovers. Despite breaking many a press in his three years at Towson State, Boyd has faced few as effective as the Buckeyes.
Ohio State went 17-13 for then rookie coach Randy Ayers last year, losing in the second round of the NCAAs to none other than UNLV. Its recent struggles have helped it mentally prepare for anything this year's field offers, starting with Towson State.
"Last year, our guys didn't know any better," Ayers said. "Now, I like to think we have a good chance of winning the tournament."