If you came here expecting a fawning review of Towson’s 66-61 victory over UNCW, you are about to be sadly disappointed. This is exactly the kind of win Pat Skerry is going to expect next year.
Heck, he expects it this year. Skerry and his team expect to win every game. The coach is building a culture, and even if the wins aren’t piling up, how they win is non-negotiable and it’s how they do things right now.
We didn’t make light of Towson’s struggles to get to this point, and we’re not going to patronize Skerry or the Towson program now with an us-against-the-world theme.
Granted, this is the best win of the weekend, and we’re very happy for everyone associated with the program. But in the grand picture it represents nothing more than preparation, dedication, and execution coming together to a successful conclusion.
It almost didn’t happen. The Tigers were up seven points with a minute to play, but alternating UNCW threes and 1-2 trips to the foul line by Towson–followed by a Keith Rendleman layup on a defensive breakdown–saw Towson call timeout with 31 seconds to play, leading 62-61.
“I could see it in their eyes,” Skerry said of the dynamics of the huddle during the timeout. “In light of what we’ve been through guys were yelling and hyped up but in a positive way. So we talked about basics. We talked about how to play ball screens, the possession arrow, timeouts. We reminded them of time and score to keep them focused.”
You know what happened next–a turnover, followed by Keith Rendleman missing two free throws that would’ve given UNCW the lead. On the rebound, Towson pulled off a four-pass press breaker that finished with an Erique Gumbs dunk to essentially seal the game.
Side notable to me: four passes and a dunk, and the only dribble in 94 feet was a single bounce by Gumbs to get comfortably to the rim.
Proving he’s a basketball coach and a leader, Skerry took blame for the near-collapse.
“Some of that is my fault. We need to practice situations more but we haven’t done a lot of that this year,” he said. “We’re at the rudimentary stage, and that’s on me to get the guys been better prepared…running a different press break and that (sort of thing). There were a couple things we didn’t want to do on the fly, different plays or whatever.”
Lost in the end-game chaos and euphoria is the fact that the key part of the game occurred towards the end of the first half. Without it, the end game heroics may have never come.
Winding under the four minute mark of the first half the Tigers trailed by seven and the game was threatening to slip away. UNCW was beginning to take the play to Towson–Rendleman had 14 first half points. But the Tigers rallied and trailed by three at the break. According to Skerry, that seven-point deficit being three and not 13 was critical.
“Very important. We were playing a possession game and we wanted to clog things and I’m proud we did what we did to work back into it,” Skerry said. “We got a couple stops late and that gave us confidence, which was huge. We got to regroup at halftime and make a couple adjustments. Rob played very well in the second half. I wasn’t happy with his effort in practice so we didn’t start him but Pressley picked up three fouls and Rob picked it up in the second half. He really turned it up in the second half and he has that ability.”
Rendleman scored two points after halftime, and Towson did not trail the final 14:19 of the contest. It’s fitting that Gumbs, the only returning letterwinner on the team, got the game-sealing flush.
The Tigers are taking Sunday off and will regroup Monday. So, what do you tell the kids when you get into that first huddle?
“You shouldn’t be surprised at the result. The effort has been great throughout. The story of our year is turnovers, defending and rebounding. We do those things and we will be successful. I like that we only took eight threes. We preach about getting the ball in the paint. Keep doing that.”
Towson outscored UNCW 32-16 in the paint.
Here’s a link to several videos created by Towson’s Damon Lewis. There’s the SportsCenter recap (of course). Skerry in the postgame locker room. Interviews with Gumbs, Pressley, and Kris Walden.
My favorite is the postgame presser video. Zip to 1:28 of that one to see the smile emerge on Nwankwo when he realizes he’s talking about a win. Priceless.
Also, Skerry talks about showing his team the Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman prior to the game. Said Gumbs: “You can take a lot of hits but you definitely get your time to swing back…we may get beat down, but we always knew we had the ability to fight and we’re a team of fighters.”
Towson plays at Hofstra on Wednesday.