By Jake Shindel, men’s basketball reporter
The Towson men’s basketball team kicks off its season on Monday and will feature a lineup that has lots of turnover from last year’s squad.
This preview will look at the players on the team and overall expectations for the season.
Forward Chase Paar and guards Christian May and Dylan Williamson should have increased roles this year because of health and players that left this offseason.
Paar only played in five games last season and missed all of conference play, but the big man, now healthy, should be the backup to Charles Thompson at the center position. In the five games Paar played, he averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds across 7.2 minutes. Head coach Pat Skerry told The Towerlight that Paar has also put on some muscle.
May saw his points and minutes increase throughout his freshman season last year. In out-of-conference play, May averaged 1.9 points per game in 11.2 minutes. In regular-season conference play, those numbers increased to 5.1 points per game in 17.9 minutes.
May shot 39% from 3-point range, and his shooting should help the team even more this year. May didn’t see too many looks from beyond the arc because of Nick Timberlake (transferred to Kansas), who averaged 17.7 points per game last season with 2.8 made threes and 41.6% shooting from deep.
Skerry said May will be getting a lot of the looks that are now open from Timberlake’s departure.
“Timberlake did a great job for us,” Skerry said at the team’s media day on Nov. 2. “A guy like [May is] excited because now a lot of the shots that Timberlake got, he’s going to get.”
Over the offseason, May practiced his shooting and worked on getting to the rim.
“I’ve been getting my shots up,” May said. “Being a 3-point shooter just opens up the rest of your game. Being able to get to the rim, too, because some nights my shot is not going to fall, and even when my shots do fall, people are going to fall for pump fakes. Just being able to get to the rim when I need to.”
Williamson redshirted last year, but his shooting could also have a positive impact on the team. A source told The Towerlight that the team even considered pulling his redshirt last year.
Former Towson guard Jason Gibson suffered a season-ending back injury in the team’s third game of the season at Penn. At the time, the team didn’t realize the injury was season-ending, so Williamson remained a redshirt. Had they realized the extent of the injury when it happened, Williamson could have played last year to help fill the void left by Gibson’s injury.
The captains for this season are forward Charles Thompson and guard Rahdir Hicks.
Hicks averaged 2.6 points per game last season with 28 steals across 27 games and nine starts. Over the offseason, Hicks said he was in the weight room a lot.
“Lot of work. Been in the gym a lot, getting extra reps in. Weight room, jump shots, working on ball handling, everything,” Hicks said. “Trying to be way better than I was last year and do what I can to help this team get wins.”
Confidence is another thing Hicks worked on over the offseason.
“You put a lot of shots in, so you just have to trust in the work that you put in,” Hicks said. “Have to trust in yourself, trust in what the coaches are telling you the whole offseason, and you just go off of that.”
Thompson was named to the 2023-24 All-CAA Preseason First Team this year after being named to the All-CAA Second Team in each of the previous two seasons. The Tigers will rely heavily on him throughout the season.
“He’s got a chance to be as good of a player as we’ve had since [Jerelle] Benimon, who played in the NBA,” Skerry said. “He’s certainly the best leader we’ve ever had.”
Heading into his fifth and final season with the program, Thompson wants to bring the team a CAA Championship, which has never been done in program history. His offseason work will be a factor in whether that happens.
“I just want to be the best player I can be, and hopefully that brings my team to a championship,” Thompson said. “Initiating the offense, and honestly, just everything slowing down for me. The game seems so slow-paced that I’ve gotten to the point where I can make a certain read and make the right play.”
In addition to his offensive game, Thompson excels on the defensive side with averages of eight rebounds, 1.7 blocks and .9 steals per game last season. Thompson’s defense, combined with the potential addition of Coppin State transfer guard Nendah Tarke, should make the Tigers a solid defensive team.
The incoming transfers
Tarke needs a waiver from the NCAA to play this season since he is a two-time transfer. His waiver has not been approved nor denied yet, but the process could cause him to miss the start of the season. Tarke initially committed to Nicholls State but de-committed and chose Towson.
At Coppin State last season, Tarke was named to the Third Team All-MEAC and the MEAC All-Defensive Team. Two seasons ago, he led the nation with 2.94 steals per game, and during his freshman season, he was named MEAC Rookie of the Year.
Of Towson’s four incoming transfers, three of them de-committed from a previous school before committing to Towson.
Forward Tomiwa Sulaiman, a transfer from Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, de-committed from Bryant and committed to Towson a week later. Sulaiman averaged 12.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season, but arguably his most significant impact came on the defensive end, where he averaged 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. His play can fortify the Towson defense and help Towson rank near the top of the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA).
Marcus Watson transferred to Towson from NC A&T but made a brief stop at Seton Hall this offseason before de-committing and then committing to Towson. The forward tore his ACL on the team’s trip to Canada in August, but head coach Pat Skerry did not rule him out for the season.
Forward Messiah Jones is the only transfer this season that committed to Towson initially from the transfer portal. The Wofford transfer averaged 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season.
Skerry, who unsuccessfully recruited Jones when he was coming out of high school, is excited about what Jones can do for the team this year.
“Finishing and getting fouls, we struggled with that last year,” Skerry told The Towerlight after Jones committed in April. “I’m excited for what he can bring.”
Coming out of high school, Jones was a power forward. However, due to the roster at Wofford, Jones was playing as an under-sized center and averaged over three fouls per game last season. With Thompson slated to be the team’s center, it will allow Jones to play the position he used to.
This year’s freshmen class has the potential to be the best Skerry has had since becoming head coach of the program. It could not have come at a better time, with the team looking to fill the holes left by Timberlake, Cam Holden (no more eligibility), and many other contributors from last year.
Jaiden Cole was born in Toronto and attended the NBA Academy Latin America, where he was his team’s leading scorer. Cole, a guard, has been battling a foot injury all offseason. He returned to practice briefly, but the doctors saw something and decided he needed more time to rest. He might not be ready to start the season, but he is expected back at some point.
“Cole is the highest-rated guy we’ve maybe ever recruited,” Skerry said. “He’s still not all the way back. He can really shoot the ball, so there’s still a window for him to get integrated.
Guard Tyler Tejada should be ready to contribute early on in the season. The freshman out of Teaneck, New Jersey, was named to the 2023 All-New Jersey Second Team after averaging a double-double last season with 23.5 points per game and 10.5 rebounds.
In his first offseason with the team, Tejada is getting up to speed with the program.
“Learned a lot from the older guys, from coaches,” Tejada said. “Getting used to the system, how to play here. I love the togetherness of the team, the culture, the atmosphere.”
Tejada said he’ll be whatever the team needs him to be when they call his number.
“[I’m] an impact guy right away,” Tejada said. “I can score, pass, defend, anything coach needs me to do.”
Skerry praised Tejada’s scoring so far, as well as his love for the game.
“Tejada really scores,” Skerry said. “He’s a [6-foot-9] perimeter guy, so he’s a big kid, but he can score the ball. He was in double figures in both our scrimmages, and he was our second-leading scorer on our trip to Canada.”
Mekhi Lowery, a guard from Bellwood, Illinois, nearly averaged a double-double last year at Oswego East High School with 12.6 points and nine rebounds per game. He graduated as his high school’s all-time leader in rebounds.
“Lowery is a guard; he’s just incredibly long and athletic,” Skerry said. “Plays really hard. He’s put on 15-16 pounds since he’s been here. Good teammate.”
Expectations for the season
Towson tied for fifth place in the 2023-24 CAA Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll, voted on by coaches to finish right around Delaware. The assessment is a fair one, given the team will be without its top two scorers from a season ago.
In fact, Thompson is the only player still on the team that finished in the top seven in scoring last season.
The good thing for the team is that if its defense is as good on the court as it looks on paper, they should not have to score the ball as much as last season.
Last season, Towson scored 71.8 points per game in conference play (third in the CAA) and allowed 66.7 points per game (fourth). The defense should be better than last year, so if the Tigers can average giving up around 62 points per game, they should be in good shape to deal with the potential loss of scoring.
Everything hinges on Tarke’s availability. With him, the Tigers could easily be a top-three defensive team in the CAA and maybe even better than that. The team can still be good without Tarke, but he adds a new dimension to the defense.
The biggest thing holding the team back could very well be the schedule. The first five weekends of conference play for Towson are split, where they play either at home on Thursday and away on Saturday or vice versa. The depth, including the strength of the freshmen class, should help with managing potential fatigue from the long trips.
The team shouldn’t be considered a title contender right now, but depending on how the defense looks, it could be extremely challenging to score on the Tigers, which would thrust Towson into the contender talk.
Towson’s season starts on Monday with a matchup at Colorado at 7:30 p.m. The team’s home opener is on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. against Robert Morris.