Nicolas Timberlake was understandably worried.
Less than five minutes into the Towson men’s basketball team’s matinee against Hofstra on Monday afternoon, Timberlake and his Tigers teammates found themselves in a 10-point hole.
After that, however, the game belonged to Towson, which used a 17-0 run to overtake the Pride and cruise to a 68-47 win before an announced 2,155 at SECU Arena.
The Tigers used that 17-0 burst to outscore Hofstra, 27-7, to close out the first half with a 30-20 lead at the intermission. They used an 18-3 spurt in the second half to enjoy a 55-31 advantage that helped them improve to 12-7 overall and 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and win for the fourth time in their last five games.
“There’s always concern when you’re down,” said Timberlake, a graduate student shooting guard who scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the second half and collected five rebounds. “But for the most part, we’ve played down in a lot of the games this year, and we find a way back. I think that’s part of having such a veteran-savvy group, that we’ve been in this position before, and we know what it takes to get a comeback like that.”
Other members of that experienced core included redshirt senior small forward Cam Holden, who amassed 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench in his second game since returning from a three-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, and senior power forward Charles Thompson, who compiled nine points, five assists and three rebounds.
After Towson scored the first point of the game, Hofstra answered with 11 straight and matched Thompson’s jumper with a reverse layup from graduate student power forward Nelson Boachie-Yiadom for a 13-3 advantage just 4:20 in.
During the under-16 timeout, both Timberlake and Holden said coach Pat Skerry challenged the players.
“Our energy was down from the start,” Holden said. “I feel like we just came out and competed. Like Nick said, Skerry tested all of our manhood and got after us, and that was it.”
Skerry shrugged off the players’ comments and instead credited Timberlake and Holden for setting the example for their teammates.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “Those two guys that just came in owned it. If they don’t own it, then we’re not going to be very good. Today, they owned it. It’s not going to be about coaching, game plan, all of that stuff. When those two guys are locked in and decide to lead and lead the right way, we have a chance to become a very good team like we hope to. If we deviate from that, then we can’t beat anybody.”
Graduate student shooting guard Nygal Russell’s 3-pointer with 14:27 left in the first half kick-started the Tigers’ 17-0 run over a 6:09 span. After Pride redshirt senior shooting guard Tyler Thomas drained a 3-pointer at the 7:45 mark, Towson embarked on another 10-4 burst to close out the first half.
Another factor in the first half was the Tigers’ domination on the glass. They outrebounded Hofstra 31-20 with 10 offensive rebounds that matched the Pride’s 10 defensive boards. Towson owned a 22-8 advantage in points in the paint in that period.
Russell was a catalyst on both sides of the floor. In the first half, he led the team in points with seven and rebounds with eight. He teamed with freshman Christian May to harass redshirt senior shooting guard and CAA Preseason Player of the Year Aaron Estrada into 10 points on 5 of 17 shooting, including 0 of 10 from 3-point range.
“He’s a great player,” Holden said of Estrada. “The guys did a great job on him — clearly the best job since I’ve played against him. Guys wore him down like Christian and Nygal. Pesky defenders. I don’t think he was shook, but they did a great job.”
Estrada was the most visible example of a Hofstra offense that labored to find any sort of rhythm despite entering the game leading the CAA in field-goal percentage at .476 and ranked second in scoring at 74.3 points per game. The Pride shot just 32.8% (20 of 61) from the floor and 14.8% (4 of 27) from 3-point range.
“They probably missed some shots that they normally make,” Skerry said of Hofstra. “I thought our energy was better, our close-outs were better, the attention to detail was better. At the end of the day, defense is about effort and concentration. We’re capable of doing it at a high level. For whatever reason, I have not been able to get them to consistently do that. The light went off for some of the guys today.”
The Pride (12-8, 5-2), which lost for the first time in five games, was mired in droughts of 7:55 and 4:32 in the first half and 3:41 in the second as they finished with the fewest points in a game since Dec. 7, 2019, when that squad was routed by St. Bonaventure, 73-45.
Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton made no excuses for Estrada’s performance, noting that opponents have tried every scheme imaginable to contain the guard who is one of only two players nationally to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and four assists this season.
“We’re used to that,” Claxton said. “It’s just a case where guys didn’t make shots today. It’s going to happen. You’re not going to be able to shoot the ball well every freaking game. You’re going to have off days.”
Towson at North Carolina A&T
Thursday, 7 p.m.