TOWSON — Things couldn’t have gone much better for Towson in the first half against College of Charleston, the Colonial Athletic Conference preseason favorite and third-ranked Mid-Major team by collegeinsider.com, behind only nationally-ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
The Tigers held a 19-point lead through 20 minutes, something that Wichita State has only accomplished on the Cougars this season. Towson also suppressed Charleston’s three-headed offensive machine of Jarrell Brantley, Joe Chealey and Grant Miller, who have combined to average 40 points a contest this season. At the half, the three accounted for 13 of Charleston’s 26 points, with Brantley failed to get on the board. And thanks to an effective slashing attack, Charleston’s leading rebounder — 6-foot-10, 260-pound forward Nick Harris — mangled in foul trouble with three fouls.
Offensive droughts that have cost the Tigers games this year arrose in the second half, as Charleston made things interesting when it pulled to seven with 7:36 to go, but the dominant first half propelled the hosts to victory, 73-62, on Sunday in front of 1,410 fans at SECU Arena.
Though it’s just the fourth of 18 conference games for Towson, it’s the second in eight days against Charleston. The Cougars won the first meeting, 73-62, on Dec. 30, which was the Tigers’ third of four straight losses on a four-game road stand.
“I’m just proud of our guys, their resiliency after a long trip. They just really rose up,” Skerry said. “I can’t say I’m surprised, because we’re a talented, tough group. … Anytime you get up 19 on a team I like to consider as a postseason team, you take it. We have it in us. Like I said, when these guys stick together and they really lock in on something, we have a chance to be a really good ball club. And that’s what they did today. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Towson also held Charleston to 28 percent from the floor on 7-for-25 shooting in the first half and 4-for-19 from inside the arc (21 percent). While the Cougars reeled in the second half, the Tigers held another opponent 40 percent shooting. Charleston finished 22-for-58 (37.9 percent) and 4-for-14 from deep (28.6 percent).
Brantley scored 15 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first and grabbed seven rebounds. Riller managed to score 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting, but Chealey, Charleston’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, struggled and mustered 12 points on 2-for-7 from the floor.
Entering Sunday, Towson ranked tied for 35th nationally in field goal percentage defense at a 39.9 clip.
“I thought we played that Towson type of defense today. It showed,” Skerry said. “The job [Alex Thomas] did on Brantley, Brian [Starr] did on Joe Chealey, it was exceptional.”
Thomas, a 6-9 junior forward, pulled down a game-high nine rebounds and knocked Brantley off course in the first half. Starr, a 6-3 senior guard, held Chealey to just two field goals and added 12 points and five rebounds.
6-4 senior guard Zane Martin scored in double figures for the 15th time this season with a 16-point outing. Eleven came in the opening 11:24, as Martin had Towson out to a 24-16 lead after a hard take to the rack. With a minute into regulation, Martin drilled a catch-and-shoot 3 on the left wing and, minutes later, tomahawked dunk in transition that helped trigger a fast-break onslaught (13 transition points in the first half).
Coming into your living room with authority is Zane Martin. pic.twitter.com/kRGDsMTX05
— Towson Men's Hoops (@Towson_MBB) January 7, 2018
Brian Starr from Steph Curry range midway through the 1H! He has scored 7 points. pic.twitter.com/DOBHLcAGq4
— Towson Men's Hoops (@Towson_MBB) January 7, 2018
Martin then assisted on a deep Starr 3-ball that kept an 11-0 run ablaze, pushing the Towson lead to 27-16, and also helped get Harris, Charleston’s leading rebounder, get into foul trouble. When the game was knotted at 10-10 at the 13:13 mark, Martin took it hard to the tin to draw the first foul on Harris, and subsequently made both free throws.
Ninety seconds later, Harris received a technical foul and not long after that, Justin Gorham’s put-back attempt slapped the 6-10 forward with a third foul that sent him to the bench. Harris, a bedrock and rim-protector for Charleston, sat for the remaining six minutes in the first half and came out with his team trailing 31-19. Towson immediately attacked the middle and concluded the half with a 9-0 run to lead 45-26.
“I felt like we came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Starr said.
Minutes into the second half, Charleston rattled off a 17-3 run to make the game 56-49 stemmed by a 2-2-1 press that slowed down Towson’s run-and-gun pace. But Mike Morsell (11 points, six rebounds) kept pushing the tempo and assisted on a bucket to Thomas that halted a five-minute scoring drought. After that, Towson kept the clamps tight to earn its second straight conference win and get to 12-5 overall, 2-2 in CAA play.
Charleston and Towson were No. 1 and 2, respectively, the preseason CAA poll, and if that stays true to the conference tournament in the first week of March, the two will meet each other for the title with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Asked what the difference could be if Towson faces Charleston for a third time, Martin answered, “At the end of the day, it’s who’s tougher. It’s who’s going to want it the most: 50-50 balls, whoever can make their free throws, whoever is tougher at the end of the day.”
Towson, who was 88th in RPI heading into this week, hosts Hofstra on Thursday night, the 90th-ranked RPI unit. After that, it’s off to William & Mary on Saturday, the highest-ranked RPI team in the conference at 53rd.
“I’m looking around our league, and we have six teams in the top 150 in the country [RPI],” Skerry said. “I don’t think that’s ever happened. There’s a lot of good teams. We’re going to enjoy this one today, then worry about the next one. When you play twice in eight days, there’s not a lot of holiday cards being sent to each other.
“Our guys wanted this one today. They wanted it.”