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Towson women’s basketball wins one for ailing coach Diane Richardson, defeating Hofstra, 65-60

If there is anyone on the Towson women’s basketball roster who is well-equipped to know how coach Diane Richardson would have felt about the team’s 65-60 win against Hofstra on Saturday afternoon at SECU Arena in Towson, it is likely Kionna Jeter.

The standout guard is in her third season with Richardson and the Tigers.

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“We probably would have gotten cussed out,” Jeter said with a laugh. “Then we would just come back harder tomorrow.”

That reaction might have been appropriate considering Towson built a lead that ballooned to as much as 16 points in the second quarter, surrendered that advantage to trail by one in the fourth, and then rallied in the final five minutes to end a two-game losing skid and collect its first victory in the Colonial Athletic Association.

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And the Tigers (6-3, 1-1 CAA) persevered despite the absence of Richardson, the program’s fourth-year leader who is battling a case of the coronavirus. Associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Kancher filled in for Richardson, whose presence was missed by her players.

“It was hard,” said sophomore point guard Aleah Nelson, a Baltimore resident and McDonogh graduate. “She’s always there to encourage us. She has a different type of coaching style from Coach Zach, and that’s nothing against them. It’s just different. I think with her being out, it’s tough. But we have to do it for Coach Rich. I think she would love to be here with us, but she can’t. So if anything, we have to do this for her.”

Richardson’s absence did not seem to be an issue early as Towson scored on five of its first nine shots. In the second quarter, the team scored 12 unanswered points over a span of 3:52 to gain a 31-15 advantage with 3:13 remaining.

But the Pride (4-9, 2-5) closed the first half with seven straight points and continued to chip away at the deficit in the third quarter. Finally, layups by redshirt junior forward Jaylen Hines (16 points) and junior shooting guard JaKayla Brown (19) gave Hofstra its first lead at 51-50 with 5:12 left.

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“I think we kind of slowed ourselves down,” Jeter said of the Pride’s comeback. “We weren’t pushing the ball as a fast as we normally do, we were turning over the ball a little bit, and I think we weren’t really focused as much as we were in the first quarter. … That was just all on us. We shouldn’t have let it happen.”

Nelson said that turn of events solidified the Tigers players’ determination to avoid a potential collapse.

“The reaction was to get right back at it,” she said. “Anything can happen at any given moment, and any team can get beat on any given day. So I think when they took that lead, we said, ‘Slow it down. Let’s run it at our pace. Let’s just get on track.’ I don’t think we thought any other way than to get the lead back and get it on our pace and go win the game.”

Jeter converted a pair of jumpers to help Towson regain a 54-51 lead and kick-start a 15-9 run to close the game. In the final minute, the team converted nine of 12 attempts at the free-throw line.

That spurt was fueled by Jeter scoring eight of her game-high 24 points and Nelson adding six of her 18 points.

“When you have a starting backcourt with two players that you can depend on no matter what, that takes a lot of pressure off of you on the sideline because now you know they can make a play,” Kancher said of Jeter (five rebounds and three assists) and Nelson (seven assists and four rebounds). “ … Having Aleah there, having Melo [Jeter’s nickname] there, just having confidence that those two kids have the ability to make plays for us is huge.”

Despite the win, Kancher said the players and coaches have much to scrutinize. The team turned the ball over 21 times compared to Hofstra’s 14 and was outscored, 38-20, in the paint. The offense also missed 41 of 63 shots en route to the Tigers’ lowest point total of the season.

Kancher attributed some of the miscues to the program being suspended since Jan. 5 because of a positive test COVID-19.

“The past two weeks, we have been off from a basketball perspective,” he said. “So coming back off of any type of break, you can practice as much as you want and you can condition as much as you want, but there’s being in shape and there’s being in basketball shape. I think we had to get our legs under us a little bit, and I think that’s where it manifested in that second half when we missed some bunnies around the rim and we missed some free throws that we normally make.”

Kancher said the team connected with Richardson online Friday and said her health is improving. But he said there is no timetable for her return.

“We just want to make sure that she and her family are completely healthy,” he said. “ … COVID affects so many people in so many different ways. You can be asymptomatic, you can be in the hospital, and you can be anywhere in between. We’re very lucky that Coach Rich and her husband and her family are home, and they’re in good spirits. We’re looking forward to getting them back, but we also want to make sure that they don’t have any lasting effects of this.”

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