Towson earns first men’s basketball win of season, surging past Coppin State, 78-73
By Rich Scherr
Dec 26, 2020 at 6:33 PM
Some key injuries and a 26-day COVID-19 stoppage threatened to derail Towson University’s basketball season before the calendar left 2020. On Saturday, however, the Tigers finally managed to move the needle in the right direction.
Playing at home for the first time in 308 days, Towson survived a dreadful shooting day from leading scorer Zane Martin to rally from an early 13-point deficit against Coppin State for a 78-73 win at a spectator-less SECU Arena. The Tigers got 18 points from sophomore guard Nicolas Timberlake and 10 points in just over 4 minutes from light-shooting forward Solomon Uvaelunmz.
The Tigers won the game on the boards, outrebounding Coppin, 53-30, to help hold the free-shooting Eagles to a single shot on most possessions. Coppin finished the afternoon 12-for-37 from 3-point range and just 9-for-20 from the foul line.
The win was the first for Towson (1-4) since defeating Northeastern in the 2019-2020 regular-season finale March 1, as well as its first home win since topping Elon on Feb. 22.
“I’m proud of our guys for hanging in there,” Towson coach Pat Skerry said. “Coppin is a difficult team to prepare for, the way they play. We had a good stretch late. … We needed a win. We’re not there yet. We’re still an incomplete sentence. We’re going to have to try and get some other guys healthy, get them back and just keep getting better.”
One hiccup to that plan came when starting forward Juwan Gray hobbled off the floor with what Skerry called a possible torn Achilles tendon after slipping with 1:54 to play.
It was the latest in a series of injuries for the Tigers, who were playing in their latest home opener since at least 1971 and possibly earlier, though records before that year are spotty. The team began this season 0-3 before having five straight games — including three scheduled home games — wiped out due to COVID-19.
Before Wednesday’s loss to George Mason, Towson hadn’t played in 26 days.
“We’ve got to get healthy, try and test negative, then we’ve got to get a flow going,” Skerry said. “We’ve got to get that edginess to us, that consistent toughness, and try to keep moving it forward so that when the league hits we’re at our best.”
Part of that will be getting a better performance from Martin, who entered the game with a team-best 17.3 points per game, but finished just 1-for-13 from the field, with eight turnovers. Martin, who was forced to exit Wednesday’s game against George Mason after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head midway through the second half, finished with two points.
Still, Towson stayed in the game with 10 straight points midway through the first half, punctuated by Charles Thompson’s thunderous slam. The Tigers then took control with a 17-2 run down the stretch, spurred by Uvaelunmo’s outburst.
“In the first half, Coppin just wanted it more than us,” Thompson said. “The coaches put together a great game plan, and we just weren’t playing hard. By the time the second half came, we started getting it going. That’s how exactly it was against George Mason [on Wednesday]. At George Mason we were down and came back, but we just couldn’t hold on. This time is we held it together this time.”
Thompson, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, said the Tigers focused their pregame preparation on boxing out and securing rebounds, knowing they’d face an opponent willing to fire the three at will.
“They said they were going to come in, shoot 3s and play a lot of one-on-one,” Thompson said, adding that getting their first win was as much about attitude as execution. “It’s getting back to playing Towson basketball. We’re not losers. There’s not a single loser in the locker room. We’ve just got to keep going. We can’t turn back. We’ve got to keep pushing forward and progressing.”
Early, however, it looked as if the Eagles (1-8) would have their way.
Coppin took command in the opening minutes with back-to-back 3-pointers by Kenan Sarvan, a 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman from The Netherlands, then extending its lead to 20-7 when Isaiah Gross’ 3 capped a 15-2 run. Koby Thomas (game-high 23 points) also hit some key shots for the Eagles, who earlier this year played Duke tough and defeated UNC-Greensboro, one of the top mid-majors in the country.
In danger of getting run out of its own gym, however, Towson, finally started to get it together midway through the half, pulling to within five on Jakigh Dottin’s driving layup and three-point play, then getting to within a point when Gray nailed a 3-pointer and followed it up with a natural three-point play.
The Tigers later took command with under 10 minutes left, turning a two-point deficit into a 13-point lead in the span of 6 minutes by limiting Coppin to a one shot on most possessions, then converting at the other end.
Skerry said the one well-deserved, particularly after what his team has been through so far this season.
“This thing is surreal,” he said. “Don’t forget, I was 1-31 [in 2011-12] and got hit with a postseason ban, so I’ve seen about everything. This is different. We’ve just kind of got to soldier on. and trying to keep getting better. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s reality.”