It took almost 18 minutes of the first half for James Madison coach Lefty Driesell to rise from his chair and stomp his foot in disgust, a familiar gesture during his days at Maryland.
That's pretty much where the similarities ended for Driesell. There was no mistaking last night's team for the ones he fielded in College Park, but it was good enough to hand Towson State its fifth loss in six games, 83-75, before 1,920 at the Towson Center.
The Tigers looked as though they were late returning from a lengthy holiday break. They shot 38 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers in the first half, which ended with James Madison ahead 30-27. They fell behind by 16 in the second half, then fought back to within six twice in the last 1: 13 but could get no closer.
Junior forward Ralph Biggs led Towson State (3-6) with 22 points and seven steals. Senior guard Michael Keyes had 14 points and junior forward Derick Newton added 12.
Towson State hadn't played since a Dec. 10 victory over Loyola, and practiced only twice in the last nine days.
"I don't think [the turnovers] were so much James Madison's pressure, it was our own inability to execute the fundamentals," said coach Terry Truax, whose team had won the past two games against the Dukes. "I told the team at halftime we'll chalk that up to being rusty."
The Tigers were without freshman guard Damon Cason (Southern-B), who chipped a bone in his left wrist against Loyola and aggravated the injury at practice Dec. 17. He's expected to play in the next game, Jan. 5 at Delaware.
But Towson State had a bigger problem in the first half -- not being able to keep the Dukes (5-3) from getting the ball down low against the Tigers' zone.
The second half would be different for Towson State, but not for the better. James Madison began firing away from the perimeter, and the margin began to grow.
Junior forward Chatney Howard (Southern-AA) made three jumpers from beyond the arc in the first 6: 37 of the second half, helping James Madison to a 53-39 advantage. The Dukes were 4-for-6 from three-point range after halftime, and 18-for-33 (55 percent) from the field.
Howard scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half. He also had five rebounds and five turnovers.
"Chatney had a lot of people here from his hometown and was a little bit nervous and forcing things in the first half," Driesell said. "I think Chatney's going to be a great player."
James Madison built on a 44-35 lead after senior forward Charles Lott (14 points) went to the bench with four fouls with 14: 38 left. The Dukes also got by without two top freshmen, 6-foot-10 center Rob Strickland and guard Jamar Perry, who served one-game suspensions.
Towson State's Florian Schneider made two three-pointers and Biggs hit one in the last 1: 13, but 13 of James Madison's last 17 points came from the line, where it had been shooting 57 percent.
"I think we're coming along," said Driesell, who was 348-159 in 17 seasons at Maryland. "I told them at halftime that the first five minutes would decide it. It was either going to be a close game or we could maybe break it open. And the first five minutes we really got after them defensively and got some good shots."
Driesell, in his ninth season at James Madison and 28 wins shy of 700 for his career, signed autographs and shook hands with some fans after the game. Earlier, he was greeted with a nice ovation after walking on the court."
"It means a lot to me," he said. "Everybody stood up and cheered, and you don't usually get that on the road. It was very nice of people to do that."
JAMES MADISON -- Howard 7-13 8-10 25, Lott 7-13 0-4 14, Boozer 6-10 4-7 16, Felton 0-3 0-0 0, Atkinson 3-7 0-0 7, Milisa 2-3 0-0 4, Culicerto 2-5 8-11 13, Boyd 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 29-59 20-32 83.
TOWSON STATE -- Biggs 6-9 8-8 22, Newton 3-8 6-8 12, Harp 2-5 5-6 9, Schneider 3-8 0-0 9, Keyes 6-12 0-0 14, Grey 0-1 1-5 1, Wise 0-4 3-4 3, de Pablo 0-0 0-0 0, Lexer 2-5 1-2 5. Totals 22-52 24-33 75.
Halftime -- JMU, 30-27. 3-point goals -- JMU 5-11 (Howard 3-4, Atkinson 1-2, Culicerto 1-2, Felton 0-3); Towson 7-13 (Schneider 3-5, Biggs 2-2, Keyes 2-4, Newton 0-1, Wise 0-1). Rebounds -- JMU 39 (Felton 10); Towson 32 (Harp 8). Assists -- JMU 12 (Felton 4); Towson 11 (Keyes 3). Fouled out -- Biggs, Newton, Wise. Technicals--Culicerto. Att. -- 1,920.
Pub Date: 12/29/96