By: Tim Anderson, Staff Writer
As someone who has watched my fair share of Towson basketball games this season, one question routinely arises after every game, win or lose: who are the real Towson Tigers?
Entering this season, the experts picked the Tigers to finish seventh in the 10-team CAA conference. I had a hunch then, and I know almost certainly now, that those predictions were a shame. UNC Wilmington was slated to finish sixth, just above the Tigers. Currently, the Seahawks are in first place and have won 11 consecutive games.
Watching last year’s Tigers, I felt that they would exceed the preseason expectations as well. The addition of transfer William Adala Moto was certain to push the Tigers up the leaderboard, providing them with a physically dominant player like they had in Jerrelle Benimon.
Even though the Tigers sit in a three-way tie for third in the CAA with a 9-5 conference record, three games behind UNC Wilmington, they find themselves in that spot after a season full of inconsistent play.
Take, for example, when the Tigers opened conference play against William & Mary with a 17-point road win. Two days later they let Hofstra beat them at SECU Arena by 32 points. The very next week the Tigers upset first-place UNCW.
More recently, the Tigers needed overtime to defeat the one-win Delaware Blue Hens, a hard-fought game that one would think would propel the team for a few weeks. The next game, they lost by 18 to College of Charleston, who sits below the Tigers in the standings.
While the stark contrast between preseason predictions and current standings, as well as the inconsistencies night-by-night, could be an indicator of the lack of disparity in the CAA, a conference that is for anyone’s taking. Mid-February is the time when the true good teams step-up and pull away from the rest.
The Tigers have a roster full of players who can make a large impact in any game, and could honestly put themselves in the running for CAA Player of the Year.
As mentioned before, forward Adala Moto may be the most physically dominant player in the CAA, a title that sometimes gets him in early foul trouble simply because, well, he is stronger than almost every other player. But, even with this talent, it is sometimes clear that he is a little raw in some aspects of his game. Any given night, Adala Moto could step in and score an easy 20-plus. We have seen it a few times already, but something isn’t quite there yet for him to do it nightly.
And then there is Mike Morsell, who is one of the most dynamic scorers in the conference this season, and next year in his junior season has to be a favorite for Player of the Year. Morsell is fresh off a SECU Arena record 34 points Saturday afternoon that propelled the team to a big win over William & Mary. And yet there are days when Morsell struggles, like his eight-point performance against Northeastern where he shot 22 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from the three, and the Tigers lost the game while only scoring 44 points as a team.
Maybe the key to this team is point guard Byron Hawkins, who is the Tigers’ first true, reliable point guard in seasons. Hawkins has played at times like a gold-and-black Melo Trimble, an offensive facilitator with a penchant to get to the rim and finish tough shots, as well as knock down the long range threes. His presence in the lineup was missed two weeks ago, especially in that loss to Northeastern, when he had to miss a pair of games due to an ankle injury.
And when you add in the gritty play of John Davis—whose talent and performances are sometimes overshadowed by the stat sheet-stuffing Adala Moto, Morsell, and Hawkins—and senior Timajh Parker-Rivera who gives the Tigers a viable inside presence, this team should be giving the top teams in the CAA fits every time they play, not just every once in a while.
So, what is the issue here? Maybe with Hawkins back healthy, Adala Moto adjusting to CAA play, and Morsell playing out of his mind, this team is due to hit its stride at just the right time. Or maybe something else is going to click, a Tigers Magic-type mentality where every night there’s a different star, whether it be Hawkins or Adala Moto, Davis or Walter Foster.
Maybe this is just how it is going to be. Maybe the CAA is just too mercurial for anyone to pull away. Anybody could be beating anybody all the way into March, and the CAA team in the Big Dance will be anyone’s guess.
Or maybe, just maybe, these Tigers need a different kind of push. A push that comes from behind the baskets at SECU Arena, a stadium that all too often serves more like a cathedral than a collegiate basketball arena.
Maybe it’s just something to think about.