After a strong third-place finish last year, the Tigers were eliminated in the CAA quarterfinals by a Northeastern team that had more talent than its record suggested. A respectable showing, but the team then lost its three top three scorers, with guard Brian Fobbs and forward Nakye Sanders graduating, as well as guard Allen Betrand transferring to Rhode Island.
This year, one name will be on everyone’s radar: Zane Martin. The redshirt senior started his college career with two seasons at Towson, averaging ranking third in the conference in scoring his second year. He transferred to New Mexico and averaged 10 points and three rebounds last season while only starting about half their games. With all the notable departures Towson has suffered, Martin’s senior leadership and ability to reacclimate to head coach Pat Skerry’s play style will be big influences on the team’s success.
Some of last year’s role players are also making convincing arguments to play larger roles this time around. Skerry confirmed CAA Sixth Man of the Year Nicolas Timberlake would “not come off the bench and that he’s been the team’s “most consistent performer in practice,” even going so far as to say he would have started last year if not for his injury. Timberlake and redshirt senior forward Juwan Gray, who put up seven points and four rebounds off the bench last year, will be expected to fill the gaps left by last year’s leaders.
Gray will be looked upon to fill the forward role abandoned by Sanders, as Towson’s only new forward is freshman Chris Biekeu. Junior guard Curtis Holland III, who transferred this year from High Point, could also factor into the team’s positional battles, having averaged 13 points per game in his sophomore year.
The presence of the Uyaelunmo brothers, Solomon and Victor, gives the Tigers a bit more depth this year, as Solomon, a 6’7” forward, was injured last year and Victor, a 7’0” center, could not play due to transfer rules. The two likely won’t revolutionize the squad, but they could give it a bit of bully ball potential down low, offering valuable minutes and rebounding.
The team will likely start slow, and the improvements expected of every player won’t be seen immediately, but their schedule is well-suited to their story this year, with most of their home games coming in the second half of the season, including four of their last six. If the new stars hit their strides at the right time, Towson could make a late push up the standings and put themselves in a good position for the playoffs.
Bottom Line: Towson has a talented team, and if everyone performs as Skerry expects and hopes, they could approach last season’s strong finish. But with so many notable departures, the returning Martin’s play early on will be a huge indicator of how they’ll end up. If their role players struggle to adapt to the steep learning curve of the starting lineup, we could see them slip right back down.
BOSTON — Playing the Towson Tigers is like fighting an
actual tiger. They’re fierce, they’re territorial, and the longer you’re locked
in with them the more fatigued you get.
So if you’re the Northeastern Huskies, and you have an extra day to prep for a Sunday showdown with Pat Skerry’s squad, you know exactly what kind of foe lies in wait. Any hope of topping them depends on mustering enough rebounding and physical play to beat a team that, per their account of their Thursday win over first-place Hofstra, “cleaned the glass better than Windex.”
But despite an even rebounding battle, Jordan Roland’s usual
scoring heroics, and a scintillating show from a stand-in point guard, the
Huskies fell just short, falling to Towson, 75–72, in their last regular-season
The Huskies’ prize? Another bout with Towson. While Northeastern (15–15, 9–9 CAA) would have finished sixth regardless of Sunday’s result, the Husky loss ensured that Towson (19–12, 12–6 CAA) finished third, setting up a rematch this coming Sunday at 8:30 PM EST in the CAA quarterfinal. WRBB will have live coverage of that game from the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington D.C., with Michael Petillo, Matt Neiser, and Milton Posner on the call.
“We’re going to be more familiar,” Roland remarked on the
impending rematch. “We’ve got a whole week to scheme for them.”
While Sunday’s game was by no means critical for either club
since both had already clinched first-round byes, it is perhaps more
instructive as a preview of their win-or-go-home quarterfinal matchup next
week. While the Huskies’ persistent defensive pressure did silence the Tigers,
61–45, in the teams’ first meeting in December, both teams have evolved plenty
So what does Sunday’s game tell us?
First, and most importantly, the Huskies need to improve their defense and inside play. The problem is not rebounding, as the Huskies hung with the self-proclaimed “glass act” all game and even doubled up the Tigers in second-chance points.
The problem is one of fouls. The fouling pattern closely
mirrored that of the Huskies’ dogfight with Drexel last Saturday, in which neither
team entered the bonus in the first half, but both teams found the double bonus
in the second as the game grew more physical. But this time Northeastern was on
the wrong end, putting Towson in the double bonus with more than six minutes to
The foul disparity did two things. First, it gave Towson — the
CAA’s best free-throw-shooting team in conference play at 81 percent — 23
tries from the charity stripe. They converted 18 of those tries, earning nine
more points at the line than Northeastern.
But just as essential was its effect on Northeastern’s
rotation. While no Towson player accumulated more than three fouls, multiple
Huskies did. Chief among them was Max Boursiquot, who fouled out after jostling
nonstop with Towson’s towering frontcourt. Northeastern had lost its defensive stopper.
“When you’re in foul trouble you tend to be a little more
tentative on the defensive end, a little bit softer,” Northeastern head coach
Bill Coen observed. “The next time we play, the emphasis will be on playing
defense without fouling. We’ve got to make sure we keep them off the line.”
On a much brighter note for the Huskies: Shaquille Walters.
When Tyson Walker injured his left shoulder last week against Drexel, it wasn’t
immediately apparent who would fill his shoes. Roland’s ballhandling and
driving prowess would suggest him, but he already dominates the ball with
Walker in the lineup, and giving him more touches could take other players out
of the offense and allow the defense to gear up on Roland. Myles Franklin usually
runs point when he plays, but can’t punish defenses the way the Husky starting
guards can. Guilien Smith drives occasionally, but hasn’t proved that he can
run point for the Huskies.
And so Walters, the lanky 6’6” junior forward, took the
wheel. Though his 15-point, six-assist showing on Thursday was excellent, it
was difficult to know how much stock to put in it given that it came against
James Madison’s league-worst defense.
But against one of the best defensive teams in the
conference, the newly minted point guard didn’t blink. He posted 12 points,
four rebounds, and a career-high nine assists courtesy of outstanding passing patience,
discipline, awareness, and accuracy. He has 15 assists in his two games running
the offense and has turned the ball over just twice.
“Adversity hits everybody . . . injuries happen. Some people
just have a way of responding to that, and I think he’s responded in a big, big
way,” Coen said. “His effort this afternoon was just terrific. He’s playing a
little bit out of position [but] really controlled the game. [He had a] little
bit of foul trouble — my staff was telling me to take him out, but I had to
leave him in, he was just playing too well.”
Walters’ steadying presence will likely serve the Huskies
well next week — especially if Walker, who Coen described as day-to-day, is
unavailable — but neither his offensive contributions, nor Jordan Roland’s 25
points, nor the 14 apiece that Brace and Boursiquot contributed, could account
for Towson’s strengths.
There was Brian Fobbs, who rebounded from an invisible
performance against the Huskies in December to drop 18 points. There was
freshman guard Jason Gibson, who notched 18 points of his own on just eight
shots as the Huskies consistently left him alone from behind the arc. There was
Dennis Tunstall, who obliterated several Husky shots in the paint. There was
Charles Thompson, who threw down two one-handed dunks to swing the momentum
Towson’s way in the first half, then took a charge on Roland and screamed with
such intensity that his neck veins were visible from the media center.
upshot was Northeastern’s sixth one-possession conference loss, and their eighth
by five points or fewer.
The game was also the final home game for seniors Jordan
Roland, Bolden Brace, and Guilien Smith, all of whom were honored at midcourt
before the game. Smith, who transferred from Dartmouth for his final season, professed
appreciation for the group’s quick acceptance of him at a time when he didn’t
know many people. Brace and Roland identified last year’s CAA Championship as a
“I was sitting out the year that they lost to Charleston in
the CAA final,” Roland said. “Being able to come back after a hard loss and
contribute to that was really special for me.”
“I was very, very fortunate that they, at one time, took a chance
on this program,” Coen said. “Their families trusted us to give them the
experience not only of playing basketball, but trying to become better men, good
people, and good students.”
Coen was also optimistic that the week between now and the
rematch with Towson — which coincides with Northeastern’s spring break — will
benefit his squad.
“It allows you to invest a little bit more time in your
rehab, your rest, your recovery, fine tuning, individual meetings along with
practice. Nobody’s under the dual obligation of being a student and an athlete.
Now you can be more athlete than student.
“It’s a long week; it’s an exciting week. It’s a complete
restart for every team in the league. Whether you finish first or last,
everybody has a chance.”
Sporting an almost entirely new squad in 2018–19, coach Pat Skerry and the Towson Tigers struggled to a 10–22 record (6–12 CAA). The Tigers finished the season with five straight CAA losses, ending with a 74–73 loss to James Madison in the first round of the CAA tournament.
But Skerry has a few reasons to be optimistic this season. His returning players are more experienced, his newcomers more exciting, and his schedule more advantageous.
Unlike last season when 11 new players joined the club, this year’s Tigers return 90 percent of their scoring and 86 percent of their rebounding from last year. Their leader is 6’5” senior guard Brian Fobbs, who averaged 18 points and six rebounds per game last year and made the All-CAA second team.
Also returning is leading rebounder Dennis Tunstall. The 6’9” senior forward supplied the Tigers with 7.7 rpg last year, including 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. The Tigers will rely on Fobbs and Tunstall to lead an otherwise young team. If these seniors can continue to perform, the Tigers could outperform last season’s ninth-place finish.
Two incoming freshman — 6’7” forward Charles Thompson and 6’1” guard Jason Gibson — both won 2019 Winter All-Met honors and are cause for optimism.
The Tigers benefit from a favorable early schedule. Their first three games are at home, providing the young team a chance to find a groove before November games against fourth-ranked Florida and 20th-ranked Xavier. Both games should test the mettle and chemistry of a team whose biggest asset — like Northeastern last year — is year-to-year roster consistency.
The Tigers also wield the early home game advantage in conference play; five of their first seven CAA games are in their building.
Bottom Line: Towson is coming off a disappointing season. However, they return their three leading scorers and rebounders and a roster of players used to playing together. Taking advantage of this familiarity could allow them to move out of the CAA cellar into the middle of the pack. However, if Towson relies purely Fobbs’ scoring and can’t reduce last year’s 12 turnovers per game average, they will find themselves back at the bottom.