It seemed only fitting that a matchup between the top two men’s basketball teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference would go down to the wire and require more than the usual 40 minutes of regulation to determine the undisputed leader.
UNC Wilmington scored 11 of the last 16 points in overtime to escape SECU Arena with an 81-77 victory over the host Tigers before an announced 1,273 on Saturday afternoon.
“This was the Super Bowl today, and we didn’t get it done,” Towson coach Pat Skerry said. “But now we’ve got to turn the page. We’ve got to still get better. Even if we were fortunate enough to win today, there’s some things we didn’t do great this week that we better figure out pretty soon.”
The Tigers dropped to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the conference standings and lost for the first time in six games, absorbing their first setback since a 65-61 decision at Drexel on Jan. 3. But what might sting more was how they slipped.
When redshirt junior shooting guard Nicolas Timberlake completed a three-point play with 15:15 left in the second half, Towson owned a 47-35 advantage for its largest lead of the game. But over the remainder of regulation, the Seahawks (11-5, 5-0 CAA) outscored the Tigers 30-18, and graduate student point guard Terry Nolan Jr., a Baltimore resident and Mount Carmel graduate, missed the second of two free throws that would have given Towson a 66-65 lead with 14 seconds left in the second half.
The Tigers’ offensive woes in the second half included nine consecutive missed attempts from 3-point range over the final 19:34 of regulation. Senior small forward Cam Holden, who paced the team with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists, said he and his teammates have to find other ways to manufacture scoring.
“We can’t hang our hat on the 3-pointer,” he said. “The 3-pointer’s a shot where if it goes in, it goes in, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’ve got to find a way to win without making 3-pointers, and unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight.”
In overtime, a 5-0 spurt capped by graduate student power forward Juwan Gray’s 3-pointer with 2:07 remaining – which ended 10 straight misses – gave Towson a 72-70 lead. But UNCW scored seven unanswered points over a 58-second span and closed out the extra session with that 11-5 run.
The Tigers’ best chance in the final 30 seconds occurred after graduate student shooting guard Jaylen Fornes drained a 3-pointer to give the Seahawks a 75-72 lead with 24 seconds left. Skerry used his team’s last timeout and warned the players they had no more to use.
On the ensuing possession, Holden slipped to the floor and called a timeout to avoid a traveling call. But since the Tigers had no more timeouts, that incurred a technical foul and a pair of free throws from senior shooting guard Jaylen Sims with 16.6 seconds remaining.
“My instinct was to call a timeout,” Holden said. “That was a bad play by me. I take full accountability for it. I apologized to my team when I got to the huddle.”
UNCW dominated in a few categories, going 19-for-26 from the free-throw line while Towson finished 10-for-14.
The Seahawks also took advantage of their dominance on the glass, finishing with 16 offensive rebounds that it converted into 22 second-chance points. By comparison, the Tigers had 26 overall defensive rebounds.
“We ran good offense,” Skerry said. “We just didn’t score it, and maybe we let that affect us a little bit down the other end. I’m probably a little bit more concerned that’s a little bit of our mentality right now. If we miss some shots and layups, do we block out? Do we not commit silly fouls? The challenging thing is, we have a chance to have a really good team, but we’ve got a lot of areas to get better at, and we have a small margin of error, and we don’t have a lot of practice time right now, and we knew this.”
With senior shooting guard and leading scorer Jaylen Sims limited to two points and graduate student shooting guard and No. 2 scorer Mike Okauru managing just five points due to playing with four fouls in the second half, UNCW got a spark from junior point guard Shykeim Phillips, who scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. He scored the Seahawks’ final eight points, grabbed two rebounds, and converted a steal into a layup over a two-minute stretch late in regulation.
“Shykeim is just as good as those guys,” UNCW coach Takayo Siddle said. “He’s extremely tough. He can make plays off the bounce. You don’t have to run things for him. He can get in there and rebound it. He’s one of our better defenders. So maybe people key in on those guys. I think they all three complement each other.”
Monday, 7 p.m.