If Towson coach Pat Skerry could find the magic potion of consistency, he'd inject it into his players' water bottles. Since midseason, his Tigers have made a habit of following inspired performances with duds.
Saturday's 77-62 loss to Northeastern before an announced 2,263 at SECU Arena was the latest example.
Two days after an 18-point comeback win at Drexel, Towson fell behind by double digits early and never recovered, shooting just 39 percent from the field while allowing 10 3-pointers in losing for the fourth time in seven games.
“This group has been very up and down. The reality is we didn't handle prosperity well," Skerry said. "We've got the tools physically to defend. … We're just extremely inconsistent. … The tricky thing is these guys need to consistently drink the Kool-Aid. With this group, on Wednesdays they might drink it, [but] on Fridays they don't want to drink it. This is what you end up with.”
The loss might prove crucial for the Tigers (17-10, 7-7 Colonial Athletic Association), who entered the day alone in fifth place in the CAA. The top six teams in the conference receive a first-round bye in next month's CAA tournament in Charleston, S.C.
For a time, it seemed as if Towson might pull off another unlikely comeback.
After trailing by 15 midway through the second half, the Tigers began to gain some momentum, first getting to within nine on Brian Starr’s jumper, then cutting it to six on Mike Morsell's 3-pointer with 7:47 to go.
On this day, however, Towson simply couldn't get over the hump.
With a chance to cut the deficit to four, guard Zane Martin (21 points) drove in for a layup, but was rejected by reserve guard Devon Begley. At the other end, Northeastern's Bolden Brace then nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, starting a 10-0 run that sealed the win for the Huskies.
“That was big," said Huskies guard Vasa Pusica (23 points). “We just knew that as long as we played defense and rebounded that we'd be fine. They're an aggressive team on defense, so we made sure that we moved the ball well.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, struggled to find any rhythm against one of the league's top defenses, Martin and Morsell (17 points) were the lone two players to score in double figures, as Towson made just two of 12 3-pointers.
“We got taken to the woodshed," Skerry said. "We just were continually behind and a couple times when we cut it down to single digits we just, obviously, didn't guard. When we don’t make shots, we're not mentally tough enough to sustain our defensive focus. That's hurt us. That's why we’re where we're at today. That's the reality. You can go right down the lineup. Every guy is guilty of it.”
The first half was one Towson would rather forget, with poor shooting and lackluster perimeter defense quickly putting the Tigers behind.
The Huskies (17-9, 10-4) hit seven of their first 10 shots, including four of five from 3-point range, to build an early 19-10 lead. The Tigers, meanwhile, looked lackluster on offense, often settling for poor shots and making just seven of their first 24 by late in the half.
Martin, who entered the day averaging 20 points per game, went without a field goal until a driving layup with 3:07 remaining in the first half.
But when Pusica nailed a 3-pointer with just under a minute left, Northeastern had built its lead to 35-20.
The game was Towson's annual Autism Awareness game, part of a movement started by Skerry and South Florida assistant Tom Herrion five years ago. Skerry, one of more than 4,000 college coaches, staff and broadcasters who will wear blue puzzle-piece pins on their lapels this weekend, is the father of an 8-year-old son, Owen, on the autism spectrum.
In honor of the event, the Tigers wore special light blue uniforms and raised money to support adults with autism.