There are several skills to learn in the game of basketball.
Fundamental skills (dribbling, passing) are learned early. Proper shooting form takes years to develop. After learning individual skills, teams are taught various schemes of offense, defense, and the transition game. Once these pieces are melded, there is one final skill to learn – winning.
Saturday Towson hosted University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC), looking for their first win of the season. In fact a win against the Terriers would have been the Tigers’ first in 28 games (dating back to last season). Following nine games this year against teams such as Kansas, Michigan and Massachusetts, Towson had been sufficiently battle-tested to take on UMBC.
Although Deon Jones’ fast break layup gave Towson a 54-52 lead with 2:32 remaining, the Terriers would finish the game with a 10-4 run to win 62-58. Ryan Clark had 17 points to lead UMBC, while Chase Plummer contributed 13 points and eleven rebounds. Robert Nwankwo (14/10) and Deon Jones (12/10) each contributed double-doubles for Towson.
Towson had lost each of its previous games this season by an average score of 77-52; that his young Towson team was in its first close game of the year was not lost on its head coach.
“I think our inexperience and lack of success showed, especially down the stretch,” Pat Skerry said after the game.
Despite recording only six assists and committing 16 turnovers, Towson remained in the game because of its defense. The Terriers were held to only 36% shooting and were forced into 19 turnovers of their own. Between the 16:10 and 8:18 marks in the second half, Towson held UMBC to only five points – all on free throws.
But free throw shooting ultimately doomed the Tigers. Towson entered the game last in the CAA in free throw percentage at 57.8%; on Saturday they converted only eight of 25 free throws, less than 33%. Had Towson converted free throws at its season average, the outcome may have turned in their favor.
While Towson failed to make plays after taking its late lead, there were several bright spots for this young team.
Such hustle and improved focused in the second half are good signs for the Tigers that were not lost on Coach Skerry. His team consists almost exclusively of players who contributed zero minutes of play for Towson last season. Winless now in ten games, his players displayed the individual skills to compete Saturday. But winning is a skill that must be learned collectively, and the intensity shows that coaches and players are committed to it.
“I was pleased with our defensive effort,” Skerry acknowledged. “It’s a winning mindset, which we obviously don’t have. But we are going to get it, by hook or by crook.”