On a Towson men’s basketball team featuring preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team selection Zane Martin, 3-point specialist Jason Gibson and high-flying Nicolas Timberlake, it was a defensive specialist who earned the spotlight.
Sophomore power forward Charles Thompson grabbed two key defensive rebounds, collected a steal and converted four of six free throws in the final 95 seconds to cement the host Tigers’ 72-69 win against North Carolina Wilmington on Monday afternoon at SECU Arena.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Thompson totaled 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals, finishing just one rebound shy of what would have been the second double double of his career and the season. Not a bad performance for a guy who emphasizes his efforts on defense.
“My main focus this year is defense,” he said after Towson (2-5, 1-1) recorded its first victory since a 78-73 win over Coppin State on Dec. 26. “I want to be able to guard on defense and bring us out of tough situations. If we need a stop, I want to be the guy that we can go to. If we need a big rebound, I want to be the guy that we can go to.”
With Towson trailing 69-68, Thompson took center stage. Fouled while jumping for a rebound on the offensive boards, he sank two free throws to give the Tigers a 70-69 lead with 1:35 left in the second half.
On the Seahawks’ ensuing possession, junior shooting guard Jaylen Sims drove the right side of the lane, but lost the ball to Thompson with 1:14 remaining. After a wayward 3-point shot from Gibson, a sophomore point guard, UNCW had two attempts to regain the lead, but missed both. Thompson collected a rebound after the second attempt and was promptly fouled with 29.3 seconds left.
Thompson made one of two free throws for a 71-69 advantage. After Sims missed a jumper, Thompson corralled the rebound again and was fouled with 18.7 seconds remaining. He made one of two free throws to give Towson a three-point lead, and Sims’ 3-point attempt before the final buzzer clanged off the rim.
Thompson didn’t crow much about his contributions, choosing instead to double down on his quest to carve out a reputation on defense.
“I would say we’re all pretty much weapons, but guys know their roles, and guys know what they have to do and where they get their shots,” he said. “So I feel like we proved that even if the ball doesn’t go down for us — because coach [Pat Skerry] told us that we were 1-for-14 from the three-point line — our defense is something that we can hang our hats on.”
Thompson, who entered the game shooting 48.6% from the free-throw line for his career, stayed true to the numbers, making four of eight for the game. But redshirt sophomore forward Solomon Uyaelunmo said he trusted Thompson to seal the game with four of six in the final 95 seconds.
“I knew he was going to make them because he practices them during practice, during warmups,” Uyalunmo said. “So I think it was inspiring for him. It’s repetition, it’s what he does. I knew he was going to make them.”
The Seahawks (6-4, 0-1) got 19 points (13-for-16 on free throws) and four rebounds from Sims and 18 points and seven rebounds from senior shooting guard Mike Okauru. But coach Takayo Siddle was impressed enough with Thompson to call him “a warrior.”
“In my opinion, he’s their toughest guy, and he imposed his will on our post players tonight,” Siddle said. “He got big offensive rebounds, stickbacks, he made his free throws. I didn’t expect them to go to him down the stretch, but he kind of worked to get the basketball, and tonight was his night, and we have to do a better job on him.”
Thompson, who is getting more playing time after redshirt senior power forward Juwan Gray tore his left Achilles tendon on Dec. 26, Uyaelunmo and redshirt junior center Victor Uyaelunmo (Solomon’s older brother) fortified a frontcourt that helped the Tigers outscore UNCW 44-26 in the paint and own a plus-11 advantage in rebounds.
“We’ve got bigger size,” Solomon Uyaelunmo said. “So it was wise for us to go inside and play high-low and stuff in a game like that. High-low was working for us, and we took advantage of it, and that actually helped us with the momentum.”
Added Skerry: “We needed them because we were only 1 for 14 shooting the ball from beyond the perimeter. I think we’re better than that. A lot of that had to do with Wilmington, too. They have great quickness and activity, and they switch on a lot of screens. I’d say that’s more a fault of mine, just getting our guys to understand that we’re bigger than them and hopefully we do a better job of that tomorrow.”
Thompson was one of four players who reached double digits in points. Martin, the redshirt senior point guard who transferred back to Towson after one season at New Mexico, led all scorers with 21 points and four rebounds. Solomon Uyaelunmo chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds, and Gibson, a Severna Park resident, finished with 10 points.
“We were just taking advantage of mismatches and trusting guys to make plays for other guys,” Martin said. “We were just making the right plays down at the end of the game and just closing it out the right way.”
Thompson wrapped up his postgame news conference downplaying a suggestion that he could become a secret offensive option for the Tigers. “I’m not too sure about that,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Thompson then spent an additional 10 minutes practicing free throws on the court inside SECU Arena.
“He’s the hardest-playing guyI’ve had in my 10 years here, and I’ve had some guys that played really hard,” Skerry said. “It’s the same thing every day with that kid. He’s a leader, he has great parents, you get effort every day. If they were all like Charles, you wouldn’t need coaches.”