Towson looks to its captains

From one angle, nothing has changed in three years for Matt Campbell and John James.

When they arrived at Towson State, they were fragile freshmen who did enough of the little things to earn a spot in the rotation on an NCAA tournament team. Proper nutrition and hours in the weight room haven't done much for their physiques, but as skinny seniors, Campbell and James have to take on meatier roles.


The focus will be on juniors when Towson State plays Connecticut at Hersheypark Arena today (1:30 p.m.). It's homecoming for Huskies forward Donyell Marshall, who prepped nearby Reading, Pa. Towson State looks to Scooter Alexander, but he'll need help if the Tigers are going to have a happy end to the toughest three-game stretch in their basketball history.

Enter Campbell and James, who combined for all of four points and seven rebounds at Connecticut 11 months ago, when the Tigers were pounded by 33 points.


For the past three years, the two have worked on the edges while others -- primarily Alexander and Devin Boyd, the man Alexander one day may replace as Towson State's all-time leading scorer -- put it up. In the Boyd void, however, Campbell and James have to forget complementary roles and alleviate some of the pressure on Alexander.

"When we lose a Devin Boyd [2,000 career points], we can't ask Alexander to pick up all of the slack," coach Terry Truax said. "We need more balance. Whatever Matt averaged last year, he has to up it by 6-7 points. John James also needs to be more aggressive offensively."

Truax isn't about to abandon the backcourt orientation that has served the Tigers well the past seven years, but he would like forward Campbell (6 feet 5, 190 pounds) and center James (6-8, 180) to be more assertive on offense.

They prefer being quiet contributors and are more comfortable finding the open man than taking the big shot. Campbell was the Tigers' third-leading scorer (8.9 points per game) last year, when James led them in rebounds (6.4) and topped the Big South Conference in blocked shots.

Campbell, a post player at Broadneck High who has always had a good stroke, showed signs of coming out of his shell in an upset loss to Winthrop in the first round of the Big South tournament last March, when he scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the second half. He was limited to 12 points in the Tigers' two Preseason NIT games, but his last-minute free throw provided the winning margin at St. John's.

James is averaging 5.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. He made 53.6 percent of his field-goal attempts last year, and he can do more than put back offensive rebounds.

"There have always been plays for Matt and me in the offense," James said, "but that hasn't been a priority."

America's quietest captains won't be heard hollering for the ball. James probably hasn't said 10 words on the floor in three-plus seasons, but he's the one younger players seek to discuss problems. He's a trash-talker compared to Campbell, a National Honor Society member who's an accomplished chess player.


"This is a quiet team to begin with, and I'm not sure if there are two quieter guys than John and I," Campbell said.

The Tigers made a tremendous noise in their opener nine days ago at St. John's, when they became the only visiting team to win a game in the Preseason NIT. They were thrashed by Massachusetts two nights later, but that encounter took on a different spin Wednesday, when the Minutemen showed that North Carolina wasn't invincible.

The St. John's conquest got the Tigers their first mention ever in the Associated Press Top 25 and left them with an opening menu of last year's Big East runner-up, the Atlantic 10 leader and another Big East contender. Truax has always lined up a demanding December schedule, but there has never been a trifecta like this.

Truax earlier arranged homecomings for two Carlisle, Pa., heroes, as Towson State played the home team against North Carolina and Jeff Lebo five years ago and Syracuse and Billy Owens three years ago.

Athletic directors Bill Hunter and Lew Perkins put together this game, which will give fans in Reading a chance to see Marshall, who some have touted as Preseason Player of the Year in the Big East. The 6-9 junior forward was a Big East all-star last season and led Team USA in scoring during a five-game tour of Europe this summer.