Towson used the outside shooting of guard Josh Thornton to take a big first-half lead in Wednesday night's game against UMBC. The Tigers seemed on the verge of turning this contest into a rout.
But the Retrievers rallied, and the Tigers needed the inside play of forward Robert Nwankwo in the final minutes to pull out a victory. UMBC twice shaved the lead to two late, but Nwankwo, 6 feet 8, scored seven of Towson's final nine points to give the Tigers an 82-77 victory before an announced 2,893 at the Towson Center.
Thornton (23 points) made seven of 12 3-point attempts and scored 17 in the first half as the Tigers (2-3) took a 39-24 lead with 7:02 left. He made six of his first eight 3-point tries as Towson had a 51-39 lead early in the second half.
But UMBC (0-6) slowly rallied behind the hot shooting of Shawn Grant, who came off the bench to make 10 of 14 from the field - including four 3-pointers - for a game-high 28 points. The rally was wasted because the Retrievers couldn't stop Nwankwo (17 points, 14 rebounds), who got two dunks, a crucial tip-in and a free throw in the final minutes.
"Offensively, I try my best to score, even if it's just put-backs or dunks," Nwankwo said. "If I'm not able to score, I pass it out to [Thornton], who gets the 3s."
Nwankwo also had four blocks and helped hold UMBC center Robbie Jackson to seven points despite being four inches shorter.
Nwankwo made a free throw to give the Tigers an 80-77 lead with 13.4 seconds left. The Retrievers tried to tie it, but Towson guard Troy Franklin (10 assists) stripped Chris De La Rosa at center court and then fed Nwankwo for an easy dunk with 1.5 seconds remaining.
"He always seems to really stay quietly active, if I could say that," Towson coach Pat Kennedy said. "He always has blocks, and he has steals, and he tips the ball."
Another big play came when Nwankwo tipped in a shot that gave Towson a 77-73 lead with just more than a minute left.
In addition to Thornton's shots, Towson got a number of easy shots in close. The Retrievers couldn't stop the bigger Tigers. RaShawn Polk helped with 14 points, and Franklin made a number of good passes, often to Nwankwo down low for dunks.
UMBC has had problems with slow starts all season. Towson led from start to finish, took an eight-point edge five minutes into the game and forced the Retrievers to play catch-up.
Chauncey Gilliam (13 points), Adrian Satchell (11 points) and De La Rosa (10 points) all helped the offense, but another slow start proved too much to overcome. The Retrievers now have lost three of their six games by a combined 10 points.
"I'm very disappointed in our defense," UMBC coach Randy Monroe said. "Sometimes we come out and we let teams punch us in the mouth and then we go, 'Oh, OK, now it's time to play.' "
UMBC-De La Rosa 3-10 4-6 10, Jackson 2-5 3-4 7, Satchell 5-10 1-3 11, Spadafora 1-3 1-2 3, Gilliam 5-9 2-2 13, Groce 0-4 2-2 2, Grant 10-14 4-6 28, Neller 1-2 0-0 3, Wasco 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 17-25 77.
TOWSON-Ja.Smith 0-3 2-2 2, Thornton 8-15 0-0 23, Franklin 1-6 1-2 4, Nwankwo 8-9 1-4 17, Lee 3-14 3-4 9, Philmore 1-1 2-2 5, Brown 0-1 1-2 1, Polk 6-12 0-0 14, Gumbs 2-2 0-0 4, Morris 1-2 1-1 3, Brewster 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 30-66 11-17 82.
Half-Towson 44-37. 3-point goals-UMBC 6-15 (Grant 4-6, Neller 1-2, Gilliam 1-3, De La Rosa 0-1, Groce 0-3), Towson 11-22 (Thornton 7-12, Polk 2-4, Philmore 1-1, Franklin 1-2, Morris 0-1, Brown 0-1, Brewster 0-1). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-UMBC 37 (Jackson 11), Towson 38 (Nwankwo 14). Assists-UMBC 17 (De La Rosa 7), Towson 26 (Franklin 10). Total fouls-UMBC 13, Towson 19. A-2,893.