The Tigers' 1989-90 and 1990-91 men's basketball teams, which went to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons, will be honored at Towson University Athletics Hall of Fame Dinner on Friday evening. They will be saluted as Teams of Distinction.
In 1990 and 1991, the Tigers achieved national notoriety when Coach Terry Truax led the Tigers to back-to-back East Coast Conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 1989-90, the Tigers were celebrating their tenth anniversary as an NCAA Division I program. However, the men's basketball team was still finding its way as a Division I member of the East Coast Conference.
Competing in the ECC along with Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Lafayette, Lehigh and Rider, the Tigers had posted only one winning season since moving up to Division I status. The Tigers did celebrate noteworthy runs to the ECC championship games as a low seed in 1987 and 1988. But, Bucknell ended the Tigers' season in 1987 before Lehigh beat the Tigers in 1988.
However, the 1989-90 Tigers entered the season with high hopes. In the previous season, Towson had posted a 19-10 record and finished second in the conference. But an overtime heart-breaker to Lafayette in ECC semi-finals ended the Tigers' season.
A year later, the Tigers had a large nucleus returning, led by the 1988-89 ECC Player of the Year Kurk Lee and 1988-89 ECC Rookie of the Year Devin Boyd. (right)
In fact, Towson was picked to win the ECC championship by the league's coaches.
Despite winning the Baltimore Beltway Classic early in the season, it took a while for the Tigers to put things together and live up to their pre-season expectations. On Feb. 3, the Tigers were a barely a .500 team they lost to Lehigh. That defeat dropped their record to 9-10 on the season.
But, the Tigers regrouped and won five of their last seven ECC games to move into first place in the ECC standings. A 92-82 win over Lehigh in the regular season finale earned the Tigers the top seed for the ECC Tournament in the Towson Center.
In the ECC Tournament, the Tigers played their best basketball of the season as they won all three tournament games by double-figure margins.
In the opening round, they pulled out a 74-63 win over eighth-seeded Rider as Lee scored 32 points. In the semi-finals, the Tigers were matched up with highly-regarded Delaware. The Tigers played one of their second halves of the season as they shot 78.9 per cent from the floor, stretching a 36-33 halftime lead into an 85-71 win over the Blue Hens.
Two nights later, playing before a national audience on ESPN and a filled-to-capacity Towson Center , the Tigers won their first ECC championship with a 73-60 victory over Lehigh. But, it wasn't as easy as the score might suggest.
With 3:40 remaining, a three-point play by Lee gave the Tigers their largest lead of the game at 60-51. However, the Tiger fans didn't feel comfortable enough to start celebrating until Kelly Williamson turned a backcourt steal into a three-point play as the Tigers opened up a 67-53 lead with 1:38 left.
The Tigers nailed their free throws in the final minutes to win their first ECC title.
Lee, who had been named as the ECC Player of the Year for the second time, was a unanimous selection as the ECC Tournament MVP while Boyd earned ECC All-Tournament honors. Lee averaged 27.7 points per game with an impressive .633 field goal percentage in the tournament.
Senior center Mike Morin was an unsung hero in the championship game as he scored 10 points with five rebounds.
Making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers earned the number 16 seed in the Midwest Region and faced number one-ranked Oklahoma in a first round game in Austin, Texas. The Sooners came into the game with a 27-4 record while averaging more an NCAA-leading 101.3 points per game.
The over-confident Sooners suggested that they may break the NCAA Tournament single game scoring record against Towson. For the Sooners, Towson was a mystery and the Sooners claimed that they had never heard of the school.
After the Sooners escaped the Erwin Center with a 77-68 victory, the Tigers were no longer a mystery.
Oklahoma opened up the game with a 12-2 run but the Tigers didn't back down. At halftime, the Tigers trailed by just 45-33. In the second half, the Tigers slowly got back into the game.
When Lee hit a short jumper in the lane with 6:45 remaining, the Sooners' lead was down to 60-58 and the Erwin Center was rocking with Towson fans.
However, freshman Terry Evans hit a pair of three-pointers in the final minutes and the Sooners escaped with a 77-68 win.
After the game, Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs admitted, "Towson did an outstanding job. At one point, I thought the committee had it backwards. I thought they were the number one team and we were number 64. They outplayed us, outhustled us and outcoached us. All we did was outscore them. I guess we thought we were just going to show up and kick some a-- but they wouldn't co-operate."
At his post-game press conference, Truax said, "I think a lot of people were surprised how close this game was. But, nobody in our locker room was surprised. We all thought we could win."
In his final game, Lee scored 30 points. He ended the year as the 13th-leading scorer in the nation with a 26.0 average. Senior Kennell Jones also had an impressive performance against Oklahoma as he scored 11 points with 10 rebounds.
While Lee led the Tigers in scoring, Jones averaged 8.7 points and a team high 6.8 rebounds. He was named as the ECC Scholar-Athlete for men's basketball. Williamson, the third member of the "Special K's," averaged 10.9 points while Morin had a 4.0 scoring average.
Boyd was the Tigers' second-leading scorer with an 11.7 average and led the team with 2.9 assists per game. Sophomore Chuck Lightening (right) and junior guard Lewis Waller provided solid contributions off the bench. Lightening averaged 8.5 points per game with a .502 field goal percentage while Waller scored 7.1 points per contest.
The 1989-90 Tigers finished the season with an 18-13 record.
Despite the loss of four seniors, the 1990-91 Tigers managed to duplicate the success they enjoyed the previous year. For the second year in a row, they won the ECC regular season title as well as the ECC Tournament championship.
Although the Tigers won their second straight Beltway Classic title, they still lost six of their first 11 games. However, once conference action started, the Tigers hit their stride. They won eight consecutive games in January and opened their ECC schedule with a 9-0 record.
The Tigers earned the ECC regular season title for the second year in a row and had a 10-2 conference record.
In the ECC semi-finals, the Tigers avoided an upset bid by UMBC when Terrance Jacobs nailed a 16-foot jumper with 14 seconds remaining to provide the Tigers with a 78-76 victory.
Before a national audience on ESPN, the Tigers were forced to come from behind to edge upset-minded Rider, which had stunned Delaware in the ECC semi-finals.
Although the Tigers took a 38-28 lead early in the second half, Rider wouldn't go away. With ten minutes left in the game, the Broncs capped off a 20-5 run when Tim Pennix hit a short jumper for a 48-43 advantage.
The Tigers did come back and take the lead briefly before Mark Wilcox nailed a three-point basket with 2:40 left to give Rider a 59-57 edge.
Tthe Tigers didn't take the lead for good until there was 1:06 remaining. At that point, Boyd hit a short jumper, was fouled and made the free throw to put the Tigers up by 62-61.
With 45 seconds remaining, Lightening made a play that will never be forgotten by anyone in the Towson Center. At the Rider end of the court, he knocked a pass towards midcourt. While running at full speed, he tried to control the basketball with two Broncs in pursuit. He finally gathered the ball near the other foul line and ascended to the basket for a powerful slam dunk that sent the Towson Center crowd into a frenzy and gave the Tigers a three-point lead.
Broadcasting the game on ESPN, announcer Dave Sims told his audience that "Chuck Lightening has turned on the juice and electrified the Towson Center."
With 19 seconds left, freshman John James, who had five blocked shots in the finals, canned two free throws to give the Tigers a 66-63 lead. But the issue wasn't settled until Jacobs rebounded a missed three-pointer with two seconds left and the Tigers proceeded to win their second straight title with a 69-63 victory.
While Rider's Darrick Suber was inexplicably named as the tournament's MVP, Boyd, Lightening and Jacobs were named to the ECC all-tournament team.
All three juniors scored in double figures for the Tigers.
Boyd, the only returning starter from the first NCAA Tournament team, led the ECC with a 20.7 scoring average. He was named as the ECC Player of the Year.
Lightening also earned first team All-ECC honors while averaging 16.1 points and a team high 6.3 rebounds per game. A transfer from Allegany Junior College, Jacobs provided outstanding defense while averaging 15.9 points per contest.
The ECC Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Truax also received strong efforts from a pair of freshmen, Matt Campbell and James. They were both named to ECC All-Rookie Team.
Once again, the Tigers went to the NCAA Tournament and faced a national power, Ohio State. The Big Ten Conference champion Buckeyes were ranked second in the nation behind Nevada Las Vegas. Towson played Ohio State in Dayton, Ohio - hardly a neutral court.
Ohio State built a 45-37 halftime lead but the Buckeyes were hard-pressed to close out a 97-86 win over the Tigers.
With 12:36 left in the game, Ohio State increased its lead to 64-46. But, Lightening, who was the game's high scorer with 26 points, led a 24-11 run that trimmed the deficit to 75-70 with less than five minutes to play. But, the Tiger comeback fell short when Boyd fouled out. He played only 21 minutes and scored 17 points due to foul trouble.
Lightening was named as the CBS-TV Player of the Game while Jacobs chipped in with 22 points.
The head coach for both of the Tigers' NCAA Tournament teams, Truax was inducted into the Towson Hall of Fame in 2004. His assistant coaches were Jim Meil, Michael Hunt, Darryl Bruce and Steve Baker.
Seven players, including Larry Brown, William Griffin, Craig Valentine, Scott Heidler, Boyd, Lightening and Waller, played for both NCAA Tournament teams.