After a stunning three-point loss to Northeastern Wednesday night, the Towson men's basketball team had just two days to lick its wounds and craft a game plan against Colonial Athletic Association leader Delaware. That was fine with Marcus Damas.
"That's the great thing about basketball," the senior forward said. "You can play again in a couple days, and I'm happy that we get Delaware on Saturday."
Wednesday's 57-54 setback to the Huskies, which ended with sophomore guard David Walker's three-pointer from 30 feet away as time expired, certainly took some of the luster off Saturday's road game against the Blue Hens at the Bob Carpenter Center at noon. Prior to the loss, the Tigers and Delaware had been the last two undefeated teams in the conference.
But if there is a silver lining, it's that Towson (12-7 overall and 3-1 in the CAA) was reminded of what the players have to do to get back into the win column.
Defense has been the team's calling card this season. Prior to Wednesday, the Tigers had led the league in defense (59.3 points per game), opponents' field-goal percentage (33.9 percent on 62-of-183 shooting) and opponents' three-point field-goal percentage (24.1 percent on 14-of-58 shooting).
But the defense was porous in the first half against the Huskies, who shot 56.5 percent (13-of-23) and 75 percent (6-of-8) from behind the three-point line en route to a 40-21 advantage at halftime. Northeastern eventually cooled off in the second half, finishing at 39.1 percent (18-of-46) from the floor and 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from three-point range.
The defense's absence in the first half did not sit well with Towson coach Pat Skerry.
"We've got to guard," he said. "We didn't guard for the first 20 minutes. Our ball-screen defense was late. We came off shooters, they made some timely threes, which helps teams stay in the game. That dug us a hole. I didn't like how we played offensively, and zones at times confuse us. But we're built to guard. If we don't guard, we're going to be in trouble. Hopefully, we learned from it."
Towson was limited to a season-low 54 points in conference play by the Huskies' zone defense. With Northeastern employed a 3-2 zone designed to make it difficult for senior forward Jerrelle Benimon to get the ball in the paint, the Tigers settled for long-range shots — connecting on just 26.9 percent (7-of-26) of their shots in the first half, including 14.3 percent (2-of-14) from beyond the three-point arc.
Senior shooting guard Rafriel Guthrie said the coaches had prepped the players on how to attack the zone defense.
"We knew they were going to go zone," he said. "They're small inside, and we've got big guys. So we knew they were going to go 3-2. We practiced it, but shots weren't falling early. We were shooting too many shots early in the game instead of putting pressure on them, and we came out in the second half determined to get a win. Everything is about effort. When you play hard, good things happen."
A strong start will be critical against a Delaware squad that leads the CAA in scoring at 81.1 points per game. It has benefited from the return of senior guard Devon Saddler (Aberdeen), who is averaging 21.8 points in the five games he has played since he was suspended a month for a violation of team rules.
The Blue Hens have given up the most points in the conference (77.8), but that may be inconsequential if Towson is not ready from tip-off – which may be Skerry's biggest worry.
"You've got to come to work every day," he said. "I know the seniors will be down a little bit. They want every game, and they've invested a lot. But it's a process. Every possession, coming out to play the right way, that's what matters. It's not all of a sudden, 'Hey, we're down.' I loved the second 20 minutes, and they rallied and were fired up. That's tremendous. That shows me that there's something there, and I've seen that a couple times this year. But my thing is we've got to be ready right out of the gate. If we do that up there [in Newark], we'll get beat by 50, 60 points."