Winners of only one previous CAA postseason game, the Tigers doubled that total with a workmanlike effort last night at the Richmond Coliseum, ousting 10th-seeded UNC Wilmington, 67-52, to advance to the quarterfinals.
Seventh-seeded Towson (15-16) will face second-seeded Old Dominion tonight.
A combination of factors worked in favor of the Tigers, who held UNC Wilmington to 28 percent shooting in the second half. One of them was having 6-foot-9 defensive catalyst Tommy Breaux back at full strength after a bout with the flu. While Breaux (Randallstown) was ailing, the team lost three straight to end the regular season.
"I thought we had a solid performance with tremendous balance across the board," Towson coach Pat Kennedy said. "We lost Tommy Breaux for a while and that really hurt us. He's a difference maker."
UNC Wilmington (7-22) has won four CAA championships this decade, including last year's, and had reached at least the semifinals for 11 consecutive seasons. But the Seahawks have labored under first-year coach Benny Moss, and it didn't help their cause last night when forward Todd Hendley, one of their leading players, got into early foul trouble.
With Breaux (five blocks, seven rebounds) forcing numerous Seahawks shots to be altered, Moss' team struggled to score. After trailing 20-6 early, UNC Wilmington rallied to get within four by halftime. But the Seahawks scored one basket in the first eight minutes of the second half and fell behind 39-27.
"We spotted them too big a lead and because of the turnovers at the start of each half, it was too much to overcome," said Moss. "Against a team with the talent Towson has, you can't have that many empty possessions."
Offensively, Towson's wealth was spread around. As usual, Gary Neal (Calvert Hall) led the way with 19 points, but he didn't play as if he felt he had to carry all the weight. Dennard Abraham supplied 13 and freshman Rodney Spruill (Walbrook) scored eight consecutive points at a key juncture and finished with a career-high 12. C.C. Williams added 11.
"This is a perfect time for us to have four guys in double figures," Neal said. "That's great balance and everybody is not just looking at me. It was a collective team win."
One negative for Towson was the loss of guard Tim Crossin, who hit his first three-point shot, the suffered a hip pointer in a collision under the basket shortly thereafter. He is likely out for the remainder of this tournament.
But Breaux is healthy again and to Neal "he is an intangible guy who brings a lot to the table. He means so much more to the game than scoring. He starts a lot of our offense when he's out blocking shots. His athleticism did a lot to change this game."
Kennedy said, "The way we won tonight really helped us. Our guys have learned how to come together. They've got a great opportunity tomorrow and they know that."
UNC WILMINGTON - Grkovic 1-4 0-1 2, Hendley 2-8 0-0 5, Downey 1-8 0-0 3, Soyebo 3-7 1-3 7, Felder 2-7 0-0 4, Fountain 5-15 1-2 16, Sheets 0-0 0-0 0, Jeralds 0-0 0-0 0, Horowitz 0-0 0-0 0, Kuljanin 5-8 5-7 15. Totals 19-57 7-13 52.
TOWSON - Breaux 1-1 2-2 4, Abraham 5-8 2-4 13, Pease 0-2 0-0 0, Williams 2-8 6-8 11, Neal 5-14 7-8 19, Crossin 1-1 0-0 3, Coleman 1-1 0-0 3, Spruill 4-8 2-2 12, Tubbs 0-0 2-4 2. Totals 19-43 21-28 67.
Half - Towson, 29-25. 3-point goals - UNC Wilmington 7-24 (Fountain 5-10, Hendley 1-4, Downey 1-7, Grkovic 0-1, Felder 0-2), Towson 8-21 (Spruill 2-3, Neal 2-7, Crossin 1-1, Coleman 1-1, Abraham 1-2, Williams 1-5, Pease 0-2). Fouled out - Fountain. Rebounds - UNC Wilmington 38 (Grkovic 8), Towson 32 (Neal 9). Assists - UNC Wilmington 12 (Soyebo 8), Towson 13 (Williams 6). Total fouls - UNC Wilmington 21, Towson 15. A-n/a.