For the first 20 minutes, something strange was happening at the Towson Center last night.
Howard University, off to a dismal 1-7 start, thanks mostly to poor shooting, was hitting shots from everywhere while trading baskets with Towson State and eventually taking a 37-35 halftime lead over the Tigers.
Reality set in quickly after the break, however. The Bison started tossing up bricks and throwing the ball away, and Towson State took control and pulled away to a 78-64 victory before 849 spectators.
The Tigers (5-3) tuned up for Saturday's Big South opener against visiting Radford by winning their 22nd straight home game. In its first contest in 17 days, Towson State finished with a rush over a tired Howard team that dropped its sixth straight.
"We haven't played in three weeks. We were so anxious to play tonight, and we were impatient in the first half," said junior forward Stevie Thomas, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked two shots and chipped in five assists and three steals. "In the second half, we came out and turned up the defense."
And how. The Tigers dived for loose balls, trapped the Bison and pretty much stayed in their face for most of the second half, when Howard managed only 19 points through the half's first 19 minutes.
Howard, which entered the contest shooting 38 percent and averaging 68.5 points, got Towson State's attention in the first half by hitting 14 of 26 shots (53.9 percent). The Tigers held Howard to 27.8 percent shooting after halftime and forced 21 Bison turnovers overall.
"Our defense wasn't aggressive at all in the first half. We were a step slow and we gave them too many good looks at the basket," said Towson State coach Terry Truax.
In the second half, it was Howard that allowed the Tigers too many easy chances, and Towson State obliged the Bison by going to the basket in the opening minutes.
Junior guard Ralph Blalock, the Tigers' leading scorer, led the way once again with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He also led Towson State's hustle on the boards with a game-high 10 rebounds, as the Tigers out-rebounded the taller Bison 43-35.
Among Blalock's finer moments were two three-pointers, although his two jams in the second half sent the Bison another message. His first slam came in the opening minutes and tied the score at 39. His second, in which Blalock dribbled half the floor and blew past two defenders, gave Towson State a 48-42 lead with 14:25 left.
Howard called a timeout at that point, but the pause did little to slow the Tigers. A three-pointer by Deron Robinson (nine points) and a three-point play by freshman forward Ralph Biggs made it 54-44 with 12:02 left. A little more than a minute later, an eight-footer by Jason Crump made it 59-46.
Howard went on an 8-2 run to cut the margin to 61-54 with 6:42 to play, a run that Tommy Brown (team-high 15 points) capped with a 12-foot jumper. But the Tigers responded with a 12-2 burst.
Towson State got a nice lift from Crump (10 points) and point guard Quinton Moody (10 points), who picked up the pace after Michael Keyes left before the half with a slightly sprained ankle.