It was a cold November night in Towson and it was a night of firsts. It was the first home game for new head coach Mike Jaskulski, it was the first ever basketball game played at the Towson Center on a wooden floor and it was also the only time I have ever seen scalpers outside of a Towson sporting event.
November 24, 1997 was a night that many of us were anticipating for over a year. Then-Towson head coach Terry Truax had somehow talked his coaching friend Steve Fisher to bring his Michigan Wolverines to play at Towson. Of course the Tigers would have to go to Ann Arbor twice to return the favor.
Many are too young to remember that Towson was the last Division I school to not play on a wooden floor. It was quite the rage in the mid '70s to use a synthetic playing surface in place of wood. Kind of basketball's version of artificial turf. When the Towson Center was opened, it had that "modern" surface instead of the traditional wood floor.
Finally, twenty years later, the decision was made to purchase a wooden floor for the 1997-98 season. Coach Truax was given the task to try and find a big time school to come in and help baptize the new surface. One of Michigan's star players was guard Louis Bullock, was from the DC suburbs. In a way it was close to a homecoming. Steve Fisher agreed to come to Towson. But two significant things happened before the game took place.
In the spring of 1997, Coach Truax was fired after a 9-19 record in the 1996-97 season. He was replaced by University of Miami assistant Mike Jaskulski. In October of 1997, Steve Fisher was fired by Michigan due to a scandal involving a booster. His replacement was a fellow Fisher had just hired as an assistant, Brian Ellerbee. Ironically, Ellerbee had been fired by Loyola in the same week Truax was fired by Towson. So his first game as head coach of the Wolverines was back in Baltimore against a Towson team he never beat in his three years running the Greyhounds.
He almost went 0-4 against Towson. Behind a record setting three point performance by sophomore guard Raul DePablo, the Tigers fell to the Wolverines 75-72. Every time Michigan would start to pull away, it seemed like Raul would hit a big three. He went 6-of-7 from behind the arc that night. The six 3-pointers were a record that stood until Gary Neal broke it with eight 3-pointers against Georgia State in 2007.
But it was the three that Raul never took that did the Tigers in. Trailing by three with 5.5 seconds left in the game, Coach Jaskulski set up a play to get Raul open in the left corner, which was his favorite spot to shoot from. Point guard Marlon Wise brought the ball up the floor, the Tigers ran the play, and DePablo was wide open. Wise never looked, hoisted up a 25-footer at the buzzer which fell short, and the Towson Center record crowd of 5,086 fans went home entertained, but disappointed.
The Tigers would get beaten by Michigan in both trips to Ann Arbor, DePablo made 60 threes, then good enough for the fourth-most in school history.
Until next week, GO TIGERS!!!