With a trip looming to nationally ranked Arizona this weekend, it would have been understandable if Towson State had been distracted, rather than destructive, in its home opener last night.
But Pennsylvania wasn't a team to be taken lightly, as the Tigers quickly found out the Quakers could shoot, and rebound, and Penn left Towson in ruins.
Competing in their first game against an Ivy League team, the Tigers fell flat, wasting huge efforts from senior forward Stevie Thomas and junior center Matt Dellinger and getting little from its backcourt in a 67-61 loss to the Quakers at the Towson Center.
Thomas tied his career high with 21 points, mostly from the outside, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Dellinger added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Ralph Blalock had 12 points. Senior guard Scooter Alexander shot 3-for-13 from the field and finished with six points.
It was all Towson could do to keep up with Pennsylvania's Ira Bowman, a 6-5 senior swingman who scored 27 points.
"We were just totally flat; no enthusiasm," said coach Terry Truax, who is 12-1 in home openers. "There's no way to explain it. In the first two or three minutes, Bowman out-hustled our guys and we never got into our offense."
Next up is No. 4 Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats were picked 29th in The Sporting News preseason poll, but are 6-0 and steamrolling opponents. If Towson doesn't play better Saturday, it could get ugly.
"We get leads and then seem to lack the aggressiveness and instincts to put the game away, or at least play with intensity," Truax said. "We take two or three quick shots and don't have good rebounding position and don't stop the other team from scoring. I expect, with at least three seniors on the court, for this team to be smarter than that."
Pennsylvania has won the past three Ivy League championships, but had to replace all five starters from last season. Undaunted, the Quakers (1-2) lost their first two games, to USC and St. DTC Louis, by a total of nine points, and were more than competitive again last night.
Penn battled back from a 10-point deficit in the second half, taking a 54-53 lead on a baseline drive by Jamie Lyren with eight minutes remaining. The Tigers (2-2) never recovered, making one basket in a nine-minute span, throwing the ball away and drawing boos from the crowd.
"This is just a reflection on how we've practiced the last couple of weeks," Dellinger said. "And I'd give most of the credit to Pennsylvania. They plain out-hustled us."
Coming off a scare from Loyola, which nearly pulled off an upset on Monday, Towson wanted to seize control early last night and more closely resemble the team that battled Maryland to the wire and pounced on Navy.
It didn't happen.
The Tigers made a rash of turnovers and twice fell behind by six points.
Thomas had 12 points in the first half, helping to compensate for the disappearance of Alexander, who was held to two.
In the second half, Alexander tried to assert himself, scoring inside and burying a medium-range jumper for a 36-31 advantage. And when Thomas continued his assault, running off seven straight points -- all coming from the outside -- for Towson's first double-digit lead, 43-33, with 14:11 remaining.