Towson brought a four-game winning streak into its showdown for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association on Saturday against Northeastern. Then it sprinted to a 12-point lead.
One important defensive change, though, put a stop to the Tigers' quick start in a hurry.
Northeastern switched to a zone in the middle of the first half, a move that stumped Towson for the rest of a 70-59 loss before 1,814 at the Towson Center.
"Sometimes when you get up, you have to make sure you handle prosperity the right way, and we probably didn't do it well enough today," Towson coach Pat Skerry said. "Even out of some timeouts, we probably had some miscues we normally haven't had. We have to get better."
Junior Jerrelle Benimon (17 points and 11 rebounds) had his 11th double-double of the season for the Tigers (8-9, 3-1 CAA), who fell shy of their first five-game winning streak since early in the 2000-01 season.
A victory seemed promising in the early part of the game when Towson built a 25-13 lead and experienced little trouble executing against the Huskies (9-7, 4-0). But coach Bill Coen called timeout with 8:15 remaining in the half, and the Tigers never fully adapted to Northeastern's decision to slip into a zone and apply three-quarter court pressure.
Meanwhile, the Huskies scored 13 straight points out of the timeout, part of a 26-8 run to end the half and seize a lead that never to shrunk to less than three in the second half.
"At that point in time, we were either causing a turnover or giving up a basket," Coen said of the timeout. "It was an all-or-nothing defense. We just didn't really have any solid possessions. … We did a better job as the game went along of getting stops and finishing defensive possessions with rebounds. That's always a great way to play."
For its part, Towson didn't play well after its initial burst.
Turnovers played a part. So did an inability to fully engage Benimon, who took only three shots in the first 28 minutes and usually found himself swarmed as soon as he touched the ball.
"I think the zone caught us off guard a little bit," Benimon said. "Obviously we didn't hit enough shots. I thought we got great looks, though, and I feel like we'll eventually hit them."
A few more made shots from the perimeter would have helped the Tigers, but their choices on offense warranted scrutiny as well.
Towson attempted 24 3-pointers, deciding against drives into the paint for ill-advised shots late in a possession.
"No one winds up penetrating, so the shot clock gets down and we're like '[Uh oh], we have to get something up,'" Tigers guard Jerome Hairston said. "It was like we weren't focused and nobody was taking the initiative to get the ball inside and get some looks around or get it inside and get a layup. That's what we were missing. I think the key to the game was our shot selection."
It was a reminder that the Tigers are far from polished, even if they are vastly improved from last season when they finished with a 1-31 record.
Towson travels to play Delaware (8-8, 3-0) on Wednesday night.
"We still have a chance to be a very good club," Skerry said. "There's not going to be many nights in this league where we can't throw it up and win, but there's certain things we have to do."