Towson picks up key conference victories

By: Tim Klapac, Senior Editor

File Photo by: Brendan Felch/The Towerlight

After a sluggish start to conference play, the Tigers have caught the attention of the entire Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) with victories over James Madison, Elon and first-place William & Mary to extend their season-long winning streak to six games.

Towson (12-9, 6-3 CAA) entered their game with the Tribe (15-7, 7-2 CAA) having lost their last three matches against them. One of the issues that has haunted the Tigers this season was being able to hold onto a lead the entire game. Towson avoided this misstep and led the entire game, building their lead to as large as 12 points in the 70-58 win.

“This is a great team win, our guys really stuck together,” head coach Pat Skerry said to Towson Sports Network. “The defense was really good in the second half. Our perimeter guys made some tough, tough plays and our forwards made great plays, especially late. It was a great atmosphere today, we found a way to hang in there and execute on offense.”

Freshman point guard Jason Gibson had his best performance in his young Tiger career, scoring 21 points, one of three Towson players in double-figures.

Despite only getting five points from the bench, the Tigers were able to get strong showings from their starters, including 17 points from senior guard Brian Fobbs and eight rebounds from senior forward Dennis Tunstall.

Tunstall also recorded his 105th career block, passing Jerrelle Benimon for eighth place in Towson history.

The victory moves the Tigers into a three-way tie for second place in the CAA with the College of Charleston and Hofstra.

Against the Phoenix (6-16, 2-7 CAA), Towson received production from up and down the lineup. Baskets from four different players, including Fobbs and redshirt freshman guard Nicolas Timberlake, fueled a 15-0 run in the first half, which gave the Tigers an early lead.

Despite trailing at halftime, Towson managed to hang with Elon until the final five minutes of the game. Redshirt junior forward Juwan Gray scored five straight points to give the Tigers the lead for good and Gibson’s three pointer with under three minutes to play turned this game into a battle of free throws.

“We knew this was going to be a hard game, they have good schemes defensively,” Skerry said.  “I thought we played well the last eight minutes, we moved the ball well then.”

Free throws have become a specialty for Towson as it ranks fourth in the CAA in free throw percentage. The Tigers made all 10 free throws in the games final minutes, capping off a 72-61 win.

Towson wrapped up their three-game homestand with a victory over the Dukes (8-12, 1-8 CAA) thanks to a second-half surge that saw the Tigers build a 20-point lead over their opponent for the third straight game.

“I thought that for the first seven or eight minutes of the second half, we were at a really high level,” Skerry said.

The winter weather outside had an impact on both teams’ abilities to shoot in the first half. Both Towson and James Madison shot below 30% in the opening 20 minutes, but the Tigers erased those struggles quickly in the second half.

“We said during shootaround that our defense would win us the game,” Skerry said. “Our offense would dictate by how much.”

Led by redshirt senior forward Nakye Sanders, who scored nine of his 15 points during this run, Towson made their first nine shots in the second half. The Tigers would lead the Dukes 44-23 with less than six minutes into the second half.

James Madison would make the game close as junior guard Darius Banks scored 22 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. Banks would score 14 straight points for the Dukes as they trimmed the deficit to five points with less than five minutes remaining.

“I might have messed up some of our guys’ rhythm,” Skerry said. “Usually we sub really quick but we got going and I felt we could go a little longer and I might have messed up our rhythm and that’s no me.”

Once again free throw shooting aided Towson as they made all 12 attempts in the final 1:19 of the game to seal the 69-61 win.

The Tigers will host the UNC Wilmington Seahawks on Thursday, Jan. 30 and the College of Charleston Cougars on Saturday, Feb. 1. Thursday’s game will honor the 1990 team, the first to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Tipoff for Thursday’s game at SECU Arena is 7 p.m. and the first 500 students to attend will receive a free T-shirt.

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