Before he became a rising star in Philadelphia and then for the Towson men’s basketball team, Allen Betrand picked up boxing when he was six years old. But the interest wasn’t based on a dream to become the next world champion or anything lofty like that.
“I was a little fighter,” Betrand said with a chuckle. “I always got in trouble just for fighting at school. That’s when my mom gave me something else to do. My mom thought it would be something to let my anger out.”
Betrand, 19, is the first to admit that he continued to brawl with classmates and neighborhood kids. But then he found basketball six years later and has joined senior shooting guard Brian Fobbs as a powerful one-two punch for the Tigers (19-12), who earned the No. 3 seed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and will meet No. 6 seed Northeastern (15-15) in a quarterfinal on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington.
Named to the All-CAA third team Friday, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore shooting guard ranks second on Towson in scoring (14.0 points per game) and fifth in total assists (42) and steals (17). Betrand and the 6-5, 210-pound Fobbs (16.2 points per game) are one of only two pairs of teammates to rank in the Top 11 in the CAA in scoring. (Hofstra seniors Desure Buie and Eli Pemberton are the other duo.)
Coach Pat Skerry said Betrand’s emergence has added more depth to the offense.
“It’s given us a couple answers with him and Brian, and obviously our point guard play has been good,” Skerry said. “We need it. I like guards and wings with good size. I think back to when I was a younger assistant at William & Mary, the Old Dominion wings with that kind of size and athleticism is what we like at those positions. I think the kid has bought in.”
With the Tigers, Betrand’s combative spirit has surfaced frequently. After averaging 4.3 points in 32 games but starting only five as a freshman last winter, he dedicated himself to improving his game, spending hours at the gym on his shooting, dribbling and footwork.
If Betrand needed motivation, all he had to do was harken back to his early years when he sat on the bench and fumed at the lack of playing time.
“It made me get my hunger back because after that, I hit the gym every day in the offseason,” he said. “I didn’t want to have that feeling anymore.”
Fobbs took note of Betrand’s daily presence in the gym.
“He’s just in the gym like me,” Fobbs said. “Anytime I went to the gym, he was there. …
In the summer, he came in willing to work and obviously, it’s paying off right now with his season.”
Teammates first, Betrand and Fobbs like to challenge each other in practice sessions. Betrand recalled one practice during which a rebounding drill put him and redshirt senior forward Nakye Sanders and Dennis Tunstall on one team and Fobbs and other teammates on the other.
“We just bullied him, and he got mad, and he just started going off,” Betrand said. “Every rebound, he was pushing everybody. It looked like we were all about to fight.”
Fobbs remembered a session in which he and Betrand kept trading baskets in an unspoken version of H-O-R-S-E.
“The funny thing is, we weren’t even guarding each other,” he said. “But it was like, ‘If you shoot, I’m going to make it, and if I shoot, he’s going to make it.’ We were just going back and forth. That was a fun practice.”
Betrand’s biggest improvement has involved his accuracy from 3-point range. After converting 29.2 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman, Betrand ranks second on Towson in that department, shooting 40.0 percent so far.
Drexel coach Zach Spiker, who watched Betrand score 54 points in two meetings with his Dragons this winter, said Betrand’s long-range prowess has turned him into an all-around player.
“He’s always been a very aggressive, downhill, physical player,” Spiker said. “But he’s added a consistent 3-point shooting touch. More consistent. He could make them in the past, but he’s made them now at a very high rate, which makes him a very tough cover.”
Betrand has hoisted 347 shots, which is a 246% increase from last season. But he has been comforted in knowing that Skerry has given him the green light to be assertive on offense.
“It’s a blessing because at any other school, you might not have the opportunities to shoot the ball,” he said, noting that he chose the Tigers over Philadelphia schools like La Salle and St. Joseph’s. “But he believes in you and believes that you can help this team win.”
As much as he is needed to provide offense, Betrand has also been tasked with guarding some of the CAA’s top scorers, marking Northeastern senior guard Jordan Roland (22.7 points per game), College of Charleston senior guard Grant Riller (21.7) and Drexel sophomore guard Camren Wynter (16.1). But rather than chafe at the double duty, he welcomes the assignments from Skerry.
“You have to be in physical condition for it because if you get too tired, he’s taking you out,” Betrand said, adding that Riller has been the toughest opponent to shadow.
If the Tigers can get past the Huskies on Sunday, they may have to go through No. 2 seed William & Mary (21-10) in Monday’s semifinals and No. 1 seed Hofstra (23-8) in Tuesday’s title game to capture the CAA tournament championship and the league’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA postseason. Fobbs knows he and Betrand must play well to give the program a shot at its first NCAA tournament appearance since the 1990-91 squad captured the East Coast Conference title.
“It’s very crucial,” he said. “Offensively, defensively, rebounding the basketball, being leaders on the court, it’s going to help when we do that. and if we can do that at the same time, it’s crazy. We’re dangerous.”
Although Betrand has two more years left at Towson, he knows the team will have a much different feel after Fobbs, Sanders and Tunstall depart at season’s end. That’s why he said he intends to do what he can to help his older teammates enjoy their last hurrah.
“I feel like we’ve got the pieces for this year to win it all,” Betrand said. “So I feel like the time is now.”
TOWSON VS. NORTHEASTERN
@ Entertainment & Sports Arena, D.C.
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
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