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Towson men come back in second half to beat UMBC, 73-72

A year ago, Towson posted its largest margin of victory over UMBC in 38 all-time meetings at the Division I level. It was a statement that helped propel Towson to a 20-win season, and ultimately helped lead the Retrievers to search for a new coach.

While UMBC showed just how far it has come under first-year coach Ryan Odom on Saturday night, it wasn't quite far enough.

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After UMBC led by as many as 15 early in the second half, Towson stormed back to take the lead with just over 10 minutes left before Mike Morsell's turnaround jumper in the lane with 11.7 seconds remaining propelled the Tigers to a 73-72 win at RAC Arena.

Jairus Lyles' off-balance 15-footer fell short at the buzzer to preserve the win for Towson (7-4), which has won three straight.

Unable to reach his players in a first half in which they shot just 30.8 percent from the field, Towson coach Pat Skerry let reserve forward John Davis deliver the halftime speech.

"He challenged Morsell, he challenged [William Adala] Moto, and they responded," Skerry said. "Hopefully we learned that it might not always be pretty with us, but we've got to have that type of grit. We could've buckled … but we didn't."

Said Morsell, "We weren't guarding in the first half. We knew we had to come out [in the second half] and guard."

Morsell finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, and Adala Moto added 13 points, including 10 after halftime. Guard Deshaun Morman led the Tigers with 17 points.

Forward Will Darley scored 22 points — 10 over his average — to lead UMBC (7-3)

Towson now has captured eight of the past 10 contests between the rivals, including a 91-65 win last season. This time, however, things were vastly different.

Led by first-year coach Ryan Odom, the son of former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom, the Retrievers held Towson without a field goal for an 11-minute stretch, building a 42-27 lead by early in the second half.

Despite playing without Rodney Elliott, a top reserve guard who has been suspended indefinitely for violating an unspecified team rule, UMBC seemed in command at both ends of the court.

"We played a very nice first half. We were scoring baskets and we were able to set our defense," Odom said. "We knew they would come out and try to punch back, and they did a nice job of just playing kind of reckless and getting to the rim. It worked for them, and we didn't do a good job of combating that and matching that. The little things got us tonight."

The Retrievers made just eight of 18 free throws and were outrebounded by the bigger Tigers, 37-30.

Towson took advantage by making adjustments at halftime, particularly at the defensive end.

Down 15 early in the second half, the Tigers embarked on a 16-4 run, capped by Adala Moto's off-balance 15-footer to pull Towson within three at 46-43.

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Moments later, Towson tied the game at 50 when Morman stole a pass on UMBC's end and fed Justin Gorham for the easy fastbreak layup. When teammate Jordan McNeil sank an open 3-pointer from the corner, the Tigers had taken a 53-52 lead — their first since early in the first half — with 10:04 to play.

The Retrievers stemmed the tide, regaining a one-point lead, 57-56, on Joe Sherburne's 3-pointer with just under seven minutes left. Minutes later, he nailed another to put UMBC up by three, 66-63.

Towson, however, pulled to within one on two Morsell free throws. When Lyles missed an off-balance jumper with 24 seconds left, it set the stage for Morsell, whose short turnaround jumper was the difference.

"I saw the time running down and knew I just had to make the play," Morsell said. "Luckily, the ball went in for me."

With back-to-back games this week at a tournament in Las Vegas, Skerry said he relished the road win, even if it took a little luck.

"We're usually a tough out on the road," Skerry said. "But road wins are hard in college basketball. We've coughed up [two] this year. This was the first one where we were on the other side of some good fortunes. "

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