When Howard University strolled off the floor at the half tonight, trailing Towson State, 41-29, the Bison players knew they were in for a tongue-lashing from Coach A. B. Williamson.
Whatever choice words Willaimson used were effective as the Bison turned in a magnificent defensive effort in holding the Tigers to 14 points in the final 20 minutes and coming away with a 69-57 triumph before 1,120 at Towson Center.
"The words I used you would have to write as bleep," said Williamson. "There was no reason we should have allowed all those back-door layups. Sometimes, young teams look at the record of teams and feel they can come out and take it easy. We were just flat in the first half."
"Flat" is too kind a word The Bison (12-6) resembled statues on defense as the hustling Tigers cut through and around a porous Howard zone for one layup after another. When the Bison switched to a man to-man defense, the results were about the same. TSU, hiting 12 of its first 15 shots got out to a 25-12 lead with 10 minutes gone in the first half.
The Bision never got serious in the first half. Towson State beat the taller visitors on the backboards (19-11) and shot 66 percent in the first half. Of the Tigers' 18 first-half field goals, 16 were layups.
Only once in the first half did the Bison show any spark. Consecutive baskets by Larry Spriggs, Nate Speight and Bernard Perry cut the TSU lead to 32-27 with three minutes to play.
But as quick as the Bison came back, they fell behind again. Three straight turnovers and three missed shots were converted into Tiger points and a 41-29 lead at intermission.
"Our big guys didn't adapt too fast to the smaller, quick Towson players," said the 6-foot-2 Speight, who scored 14 points and grabbed first rebounds in his longest stint of the season (30 minutes). "I played in Baltimore in high school and I usually don't play well when I come back over here. My mother was in the stands and I'm a senior. I wanted to play well in front of her one time."
After a tongue-lashing that none of the Bison players wanted to discuss, the game took a sudden turn. TSU forgot how to shoot and Howard remembered how to defend against the layup.
Two free throws by Towson's Micheale Sharpe (18 points), after a fourth foul on Spriggs put the Tigers up, 48-41. Speight then hit one of two free throws, turned a steal into a breakaway to cut the deficit to 48-44. Rodney Wright then tossed in all three of his field goals, the third one trying the game at 50 with 10:08 to play.
"At that point, we had caught up and we wanted to control things," said Williamson, "We spread out and made them come after us."
Howard did commit a few boo-boos in its spread offense but the Tigers (4-12), who had lost their last eight games before tonight, failed to capitalize on any of them. They went scoreless for nearly eight minutes and scored only two field goals in the final 11 1/2 minutes.
"Maybe we got intimidated or something," said Towson Coach Vince Angotti. "There's no reason we can shoot 66 percent in the first half and zilch in second. But we're accustomed to that now. We can't play in the second half. Every time a team makes a run at us in the second half, we back off."
Speight's free throw put the Bison in front to stay, 51-50, with 6:56 to play. Perry followed with another pair of freebies and Janes Ratiff (17 points) threw down a onehanded dunk for a 55-50 Howard lead.
Sharpe's short jumper finally woke up the TSU scorekeeper and narrowed the gap to 55-52 with 4:07 to play. But Bison were not about to go flat again.
Running the spread to perfection now. Howard outscored its hosts, 12-5, over the final minutes to assure its fourth straight victory on the road.