Before Towson State's game against Delaware yesterday, booklets were distributed along press row breaking down all the seeding possibilities for this week's North Atlantic Conference tournament. They contained 16 pages, prompting one member of the Tigers' athletic department to quip, "My term paper wasn't this long."
The scenarios weren't that complex for Towson State, though. A Tigers win would have given them the fourth seed; a loss would drop them to fifth. Either way, that meant a noon game next Saturday in the quarterfinal round at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Del., against the Blue Hens or Vermont.
As the day unfolded, Towson State's tournament destiny became clear. It will play Delaware a third straight time after a 71-70 loss before 2,077 at the Towson Center that became hTC official when Ralph Blalock's last-second shot bounced off the rim.
The Tigers closed the regular season by losing three of their last four games, including Wednesday night's eight-point defeat at Delaware. "We feel like we gave the game away both times," said sophomore forward Ralph Biggs (12 points). "We didn't get the loose balls we should have, didn't make the defensive stops we should have."
Both teams are 15-11 overall and 11-7 in the NAC.
There were 13 lead changes in the second half, the last coming when Delaware freshman Tyrone Perry pulled up in the lane and made a 10-foot jumper with 1:11 left. Blalock (22 points) had a shot blocked by junior forward Peca Arsic (22 points), then rebounded a miss by the Yugoslavia native with nine seconds remaining.
After two timeouts, Towson State's Michael Keyes dribbled to the middle of the floor and passed to Blalock on the right side. The forward, playing his last home game, veered into the lane with Delaware's Patrick Evans guarding him and missed from about eight feet.
On the last possession, the 6-foot-5 Evans "really challenged [Blalock] and I think Pat's reach and size made it tough for Ralph to get a look at the basket," said Delaware coach Mike Brey.
"I thought we got a pretty good look at the basket," said Tigers coach Terry Truax, "and it was a clean defensive play.
"Probably everybody in America knew the ball was going to Ralph Blalock eventually," he said. "We tried a little deception by going to one side and bringing him back around. If the shot goes, it makes a lot of difference in terms of our season. But the biggest difference it makes, really, is what color uniform we're wearing next Saturday. It's either black or white. That shot means we're wearing black."
The Blue Hens, who were 13-for-14 from the line in the second half, received 16 points and nine rebounds from junior forward Greg Smith. Senior guard Scooter Alexander scored 12 points for Towson State. Blalock had 10 in the last six minutes.
The Tigers led by three with 2:30 left after Blalock drove the baseline and scored. Arsic made a jumper, and Towson State missed twice on its next possession before Perry's deciding basket.
That sets up the latest installment of Towson State vs. Delaware, and a chance for the Tigers to redeem themselves after bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Big South Conference tournament last season. But the Blue Hens have been tough on their home floor, going 10-3.
"People say, 'Are you going to be more confident because you beat them twice?' Yeah, I guess we could use that," Brey said. "But I've heard coaches say it's hard to beat a team three times, too. So I'm not going to get into any deep, philosophical stuff. It doesn't matter who's out there when they toss it. We'll be ready to play."