On Sunday afternoon, about 10 minutes after the end of the second game in eight days between the Towson and College of Charleston men’s basketball teams, Tigers coach Pat Skerry thought for a second. He looked down at the printout of a box score before him at his postgame news conference. It said: Towson 73, Charleston 62.
Did he remember, Skerry had been asked, the score of their meeting last weekend?
“Was it 73-62?” he asked, after some contemplation. In fact, it was. “Is that right? How about that? Wow. Yeah, I like this result better. I can tell you that.”
The Cougars (11-5, 2-2) were the preseason favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Tigers (12-5, 2-2), just as in their first meeting in South Carolina, weren’t far behind. On Sunday, the script — or at least the score line — flipped. It was host Towson that had the look of a conference champion at SECU Arena. It was Charleston that left the game ruing its mistakes.
How did this end up happening? Two days earlier, after a dominant win over UNC Wilmington, Skerry asked a variation of the same question. It was an “awful thing,” he said, for the conference’s schedule makers to have the conference foes meet twice in the teams’ first four league games. Never in his two-plus decades had Skerry seen anything like it. “I just don’t know why that happened,” he said Friday.
Easier to decipher was the cause and effect over 40 minutes of action Sunday. After allowing the Cougars to shoot 51.2 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range Dec. 30, the Tigers held their visitors to marks of 43.1 percent and 23.5 percent, respectively. After leaning on senior wing Eddie Keith II and sophomore guard Zane Martin for over half of their scoring Dec. 30, the Tigers had five players finish in double figures. After struggling for easy points Dec. 30, the Tigers finished 19-for-23 from the free-throw line.
If it felt like a new year, indeed it was.
“We're both talented, we're both going to give it our all,” said Martin, who finished with a team-high 16 points in the team’s 14th straight home win. “At the end of the day, it's, who wants it the most? Who's going to make those 50-50 balls? That's all it is. Who's going to make their free throws? Who's tougher at the end of the day?”
At the end of the first half, that was not a question. Charleston, coming off an upset overtime loss Friday night at Drexel, still played as if its defense were lost luggage, allowing 45 points on 50 percent shooting.
The Tigers defense, meanwhile, again seemed to be returning to them. Midway through the first half, the Cougars had seen just four shots go in. For the game’s first 20 minutes, they had stretches without a field goal that lasted as long as commercial breaks. Five times in the first half, Charleston went at least 2:28 without a field goal. Twice it went over four minutes without one.
For the final 3:42, the Cougars didn’t even score, and at halftime, they trailed by 19.
“These guys, when they stick together and they really lock in in something,” Skerry said, “we've got a chance to be a really good ballclub.”
He knew a Charleston run was coming. In their last meeting, the Cougars had pushed a lead of just two at halftime to as much as 16 late in their win. And when Skerry called timeout with under eight minutes in the game, sophomore guard Grant Riller (game-high 18 points) having scored the latest of Charleston’s nine straight points, the lead was back down to seven, 56-49.
But Towson junior forward Alex Thomas (four points, game-high nine rebounds) converted a layup on the next possession, and the Cougars never got closer than seven.
“Every time you play Towson,” Charleston coach Earl Grant said, “it's pretty much the same.”
The sheet of paper in front of him said as much.
Notes: Five technical fouls were called in the game, three on Charleston and two on Towson. “There's not a lot of holiday cards being sent to each other,” Skerry said. ... Tigers freshman guard Travis Ingram, who had not played in any of the team’s three previous games, has left the team for personal reasons, Skerry said. Ingram had 19 points and 22 rebounds over Towson’s first 16 games.