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Towson’s Winning Formula

By Joseph Suhoski  Published: 30th January 2012

Pat Skerry huddles Towson during a timeout.

Thus ends the streak!

On Saturday against UNC Wilmington, Towson University snapped its NCAA-record 41-game losing streak with a 66-61 win.  The losing streak spanned all 22 games this season as well as the final 19 games of last season.

The CAAZone was present for both the final loss of the streak (at home Wednesday against Virginia Commonwealth) and Saturday’s victory.

67-42 Loss to Virginia Commonwealth

Seven minutes into the game against the Rams, the Tigers were tied as both teams had ten points.  Senior Robert Nwankwo had scored six of those ten points for Towson, and the team had committed only one turnover in that span.

Over the final 33 minutes of the game, however, Virginia Commonwealth’s pressure-based defense would force Towson into 23 turnovers.  Rob Brandenberg, who had averaged four points per game over his previous eight games, led the Rams with 16 points in only 22 minutes.  The sophomore also paced the team with four steals.

There was no singular run that put the Rams over the top.  Rather, they were able to keep up supreme defensive intensity because of their depth, and they scored consistently enough to keep Towson at bay throughout the game.  Ten different Rams played between twelve and 25 minutes.  Conversely, four of Towson’s five starters played at least 34 minutes.

“It was a good defensive effort by our guys tonight,” Coach Shaka Smart acknowledged after the game.  “The bench and our freshmen did a lot of good things.”

Nwankwo was Towson’s most productive player, registering his fourth double-double in his last five games.  In addition to his 16 points and 13 rebounds, he had three steals and two blocked shots.  After the game he was asked what he tells his teammates about battling both their opponents and the losing streak down the stretch run.

“They need to keep their heads up,” the senior said, “and continue to guard.”  In their next game, this mindset finally paid dividends.

66-61 Win over UNC Wilmington

The Seahawks came to Baltimore on a bit of a slide, having lost five of their last six.  They were also short-handed, as the team’s leader in assists (freshman Freddie Jackson) was injured earlier in the week against Old Dominion.  But they have gotten an All-CAA performance from junior Keith Rendleman all season long, who came into the contest Saturday averaging 15.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.

Towson jumped out to a 13-5 lead, but Rendleman’s 14 first-half points helped the Seahawks build a 32-29 at halftime.  Despite being down three at halftime, Towson was in a good position – in addition to playing tough defense, they were shooting well as a team (42.3%) and had received minimal production from Nwankwo.  To be down only three with zero points from their leader was a positive sign.

After UNCW stretched its lead to 38-34 four minutes into the second half, Towson went on a 17-9 run over the next six minutes.  The highlight of the run was an alley-oop dunk by Nwankwo on a fast-break assist from Marcus Damas.  The dunk made the score 45-41 in Towson’s favor, and this was the point that both the players and fans seemed to sense a winnable game.

Once Towson took a 39-38 lead with 14:19 remaining, they would only surrender the lead only when UNCW tied the game at 52.  Towson would then score eight consecutive points to take a 60-52 lead, but the Seahawks would score enough late to cut the lead to 62-61.

Rendleman was fouled with 20 seconds and went to the foul line.  Although he came into the game hitting 64.5% of his free throws on the year, the forward missed both his shots.  The second miss was corralled by Nwankwo, who fed Erique Gumbs the ball for a dunk and a 64-61 lead.  Nwankwo would then block Adam Smith’s final shot, and Deon Jones’ two free throws sealed the 66-61 win.

Following the game, Nwankwo (twelve points, eleven rebounds, three blocks and two steals) was asked what he learned from watching a Muhammed Ali movie with the team Thursday.  His answer was simple: “Perseverance.”  Damas (18 points, seven rebounds) stated that the team was “completely prepared” for the game while Gumbs (eleven points, eight rebounds) acknowledged that the win was very emotional.

Coach Skerry identified what led to the win: “We guarded and we rebounded and we didn’t take a lot of 3′s, so that’s kind of our winning formula.”  Although the team had not won previously this season, the effort in recent performances was evident.

Following the Rams’ win Wednesday, Coach Smart stated that he showed his team film of Towson’s recent games against George Mason and Delaware.  Smart did so to stress the team’s efforts despite the losing streak.  UNCW coach Buzz Peterson credited Coach Skerry “for keeping the team playing hard,” and said he also emphasized to his team how hard Towson plays.

To underscore Skerry’s “winning formula,” consider that the Tigers had out-rebounded each of their previous four opponents.  Three of those games were against Old Dominion, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth.  Their defensive effort against the Rams was also solid, as they recorded 13 steals and forced 16 total turnovers.

Meanwhile against UNCW, Towson held the Seahawks scoreless the last two-plus minutes of the first half and the first three-plus minutes to start the second.  Wilmington also went without a field goal from the 6:09 mark to the 0:57 mark of the second half.  Lastly, Towson pulled down 41 rebounds to the Seahawks’ 29.

The effort finally paid off for the Tigers, and Coach Skerry stressed how happy he was for his players.  “We coined a new phrase this week,” Skerry said.  “’Towson doesn’t beat Towson.’”

If their recent performance is any indication, there will be other teams this year who don’t beat Towson, either.

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