2020–21 CAA Preview: Towson Tigers

Last season: 19–13 (12–6, third in CAA); lost to Northeastern in CAA quarterfinals

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (10th season)

Preseason Poll Projected Finish: Fourth

Departures — ppg/rpg/apg (fg% / 3fg% / ft%)

  • G Allen Betrand — 14/3/1 (44/39/89)
  • G Nigel Haughton —  played 27 mins
  • G Brian Fobbs — 16/5/2 (43/34/83)
  • F Dennis Tunstall — 4/6/1 (53/26/70)
  • F Nakye Sanders — 9/6/2 (49/X/69)

Additions

  • G Zane Martin
  • G Curtis Holland III
  • G Cam Allen
  • G Darrick Jones Jr.
  • F Chris Biekeu

By Josh Chaskes

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.

Men’s Basketball Tumbles Against Towson

By Milton Posner

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 game.

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 since then.

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 play.

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.

The 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 favorite moment.

“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.”

CAA Preview: Towson Tigers

Last Season: 10–22 (6–12, ninth in CAA); lost in CAA first round

Head Coach: Pat Skerry (ninth season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Sixth

Losses

  • G Quinton Drayton
  • G Jordan McNeil
  • C Alex Thomas

Additions

  • G Demetrius Mims
  • G Nigel Haughton
  • G Jason Gibson
  • F Charles Thompson

By Mack Krell

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.