The Towson men's basketball team's first field goal Thursday night was a 3-pointer. So was the one after that, and the one after that.
Inside SECU Arena, Tigers coach Pat Skerry did not seem surprised after the first one fell against James Madison, or the third, or the seventh, even as the mountain of empirical evidence before him suggested his team was winning some kind of basketball lottery.
Towson came into the game against the Dukes averaging 5.2 3-pointers per game, on 32.4 percent shooting. James Madison was first in the Colonial Athletic Association in 3-point defense, at 29.2 percent. And here were Skerry's Tigers, nearly halfway through a crucial league game, with an eight-point lead and eight made field goals, seven of them 3-pointers.
Towson's final numbers from beyond the arc were nothing pretty to look at for the announced 2,546: 8-for-24. But the 69-67 win was instructive: Against one of the conference's top defenses, the Tigers (20-10, 11-6) could shoot their way to a lead when nothing else would take them there. And when the difficulty level of 3-pointers returned, they wouldn't need to hit them to win.
Sophomore guard Byron Hawkins led the team with 16 points in its regular-season home finale, while forward Timajh Parker-Rivera added 13 and nine rebounds on senior day.
"I think we made shots early from 3," said Skerry, who reached 20 wins at the school for the second time in three seasons. But, he added: "I thought we settled for too many; we can't forget that we're a driving, we're a post-up, we're a red-zone team."
Towson had perhaps forgotten that in the teams' first meeting. It shot 2-for-20 from beyond the arc in a 73-59 road loss Jan. 9.
On Thursday, the Tigers made three 3-pointers before the first TV timeout. From long range, Towson started 7-for-11; elsewhere, it was just 1-for-10.
"They were going to pack the lane," senior guard Josh Ivory (11 points) said. "Just be ready to catch and shoot. Hold your follow-through. ... I think, as a team, that's what we did. They packed the lane. We got good shots. Guys were moving the ball well. It was the key of the game, making shots."
Maybe the Tigers should have seen their first attempt of the second half — a right corner look from junior forward John Davis that glanced off the top of the backboard — as a sign. They did not. They missed their next six, too, but built their 30-25 halftime lead to 42-36. Mainly because it didn't seem to matter what James Madison (20-10, 10-7) was shooting — leading scorers Shakir Brown (Patterson) and Ron Curry were held to a combined 23 points on 6-for-16 shooting — and also because Towson seemed to get every other miss on the offensive glass.
After a 3-pointer by Ivory midway through the second half gave the Tigers a 45-38 lead, James Madison dropped its zone defense. So on three of the next five possessions, they scored at the rim. The last, on a steal and slam by Parker-Rivera, gave Towson a 51-42 lead.
"The 3 [Ivory] made in the second half," Skerry said, "was a dagger."
It was easy to say that afterward. A four-point play by the Dukes' Curry cut the deficit to 58-52 with 2:58 remaining, and James Madison clawed until the final buzzer.
But after Curry's shot, the Tigers' long-range game, by now long discarded, resurfaced. Kind of. With the shot clock near zero and Towson sophomore forward Mike Morsell (11 points) inbounding the ball in front of his bench, he slung a pass inside. The throw was as accurate as any of the Tigers' attempts from such a distance, and Parker-Rivera, freed by a screen, rose to catch the ball and feather it into the net.
It counted for two points all the same, but it felt like more.