Tigers end streak, sink Seahawks 66-61
After 21 games and 21 losses this season, the Tigers’ first-year Head Coach Pat Skerry finally has a win under his belt: a 66-61 victory over UNC-Wilmington (8-13, 4-7 CAA) Saturday afternoon at the Towson Center.
“Mike Waddell is probably happier than I am. He is the sorry soul that hired me. But I’m happy for these guys, they deserved it a while ago,” Skerry said. “They have been in position to do it and they haven’t let up.”
The program’s last win came on Dec. 29, 2010, against LaSalle. After the team extended their Division-I record to 41 straight losses, Skerry showed his players footage of the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to show them what perseverance is about.
“We showed them the Ali fight, the rope-a-dope, the other day,” Skerry said. “They loved that. We are on the ropes, we are taking a beating, but we didn’t get knocked down. It says a lot about these guys.”
The Tigers led by seven points with 54 seconds left in the contest, but the Seahawks cut Towson’s (1-22, 1-10) lead to one point with 33 seconds left after a layup by junior forward Keith Rendleman. Towson responded by breaking the UNC-W full court press that lead to a breakaway slam from sophomore forward Erique Gumbs with 9.3 seconds remaining.
Down 64-61, The Seahawks had the opportunity to tie the game. But freshman point guard Adam Smith’s 3-point attempt with two seconds left was met with a block from senior forward Rob Nwankwo that sealed the Tigers first victory of the season.
“I knew he was going to try to be the heroic figure. I knew he was going to take that shot,” Nwankwo said. “So [I was] just making sure I had my hand up and just blocked him,”
Coming into the contest, the Tigers knew that Rendleman would be their biggest concern. He averages a double-double a game, with 15.2 points per contest and 11.2 rebounds a game.
In the first half, Rendleman gave the Tigers more than they could handle. He scored 14 points with five boards in the first half. In the second half, Nwankwo effectively shut him down, holding him to just three points and five rebounds. Even though Nwankwo was not in the lineup to start the game, it was his effort in the second half that Skerry said was the key to the victory.
“The difference in the game was, in the second half, Rob.” Skerry said. “He didn’t do anything special, he just used his talents and his abilities and he locked down the kid Rendleman, and he is a very good player. Hats off to Rob. I thought his defense won us the basketball game.”
Nwankwo finished with his ninth double-double of the season, recording 12 points, 11 rebounds and adding three blocks.
“I noticed that [Rendleman] was going to the glass. He had a mid-range jumper that was consistent. I knew just getting to him and bodying him up, shut him down,” Nwankwo said.
Nwankwo was not the only star of the game for Towson. For the first time this season, four Tigers scored in the double-digits. Sophomore forward Marcus Damas led all scorers with 18 points, while freshman guard Deon Jones added 15 points.
Sophomore forward Erique Gumbs, the only player on the roster through the full duration of the losing streak, was more aggressive on the boards than he has been all season and opened up scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Gumbs finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
“I’ve been here for the whole thing. I feel like I’ve seen it all,” Gumbs said. “It was actually really emotional and I’ve been waiting for it for a long time working for it. Not just waiting, but working,”
Even though the Tigers’ record is far from respectable, Skerry’s squad has developed a reputation as a hard-working team.
“Coach Skerry has these kids working very hard and they could have hung their heads a long time ago and they didn’t and they kept on fighting,” UNC-W Head Coach Buzz Peterson said.
The Tigers try for another win Wednesday night against Hofstra.