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Towson men’s basketball collapses late in 61-56 loss to College of Charleston in CAA Tournament semifinal

WASHINGTON — Towson men’s basketball’s run through the Coastal Athletic Association Tournament ended brutally Monday night.

For the sixth time in as many CAA Tournament semifinals, the Tigers could not take the next step to have a chance at their first NCAA Tournament bid in more than 30 years and fell to the College of Charleston, 61-56, at the Entertainment & Sports Arena.

What made Monday night’s finish excruciating was that Towson owned a 55-48 advantage with 4:12 to go. The Cougars (26-7), who captured last year’s tournament title, went on a 13-1 run in the final 3:11 to advance to Tuesday night’s championship game against either No. 3 seed Hofstra (20-12) or No. 7 seed Stony Brook (19-14).

Freshman shooting guard Tyler Tejada paced the Tigers by scoring a team-high 16 points and grabbing four rebounds. But Towson (20-14) added another deflating finish to CAA Tournament semifinal exits in 2009, 2014, 2017, 2022 and 2023.

“Obviously, that one stings, but credit to Charleston,” Towson coach Pat Skerry said. “I’m proud of our fight. We’re obviously disappointed in the end there.”

The Tigers have lost in their past eight conference tournament semifinal games. They slipped in 1996 as members of the North Atlantic Conference and 1994 in the Big South Conference and haven’t advanced to a league tournament final since 1992 when they played in the East Coast Conference.

The Tigers entered the game ranking eighth in the nation with a plus-eight rebounding margin and first in the league with 672 total free-throw attempts. But they were outrebounded by College of Charleston, 36-33, and went to the foul line only seven times compared with 19 for the Cougars.

“We struggled to score down the stretch,” Skerry acknowledged. “We went small, and they turned up the pressure a little bit. Our offensive choppiness has kind of been an Achilles heel all year. For us, we usually need to get on the glass and get to the foul line, and we didn’t have great success in either of those areas, but a lot of it had to do with them.”

The Tigers missed their last four shots during that game-ending drought. They also played the final 70 seconds without graduate student power forward Charles Thompson, who fouled out after compiling 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

“Charlie was terrific,” Skerry said, noting that Thompson was assessed all five fouls in the second half. “That sometimes is a roll of the dice. That was on me. I felt we needed him on the floor.”

Junior power forward Ante Brzovic’s dunk off a defensive breakdown and left-handed assist by backup junior point guard CJ Fulton gave the College of Charleston a 58-56 lead with 33 seconds remaining. Towson sophomore shooting guard Christian May was fouled with 20.2 seconds left and awarded a one-and-one situation at the free-throw line.

But May air-balled his first attempt, and the Tigers were forced to foul junior shooting guard Reyne Smith, who converted 3 of 4 free throws to cement the victory for the Cougars.

Smith, who led the College of Charleston with 11 of his 16 points in the first half to go with five rebounds, two assists and two steals, said he and his teammates were calm in the face of that seven-point deficit.

“We never panic, we don’t budge,” he said. “We knew there was three minutes left, and that’s a lot of time in basketball, and you can do a lot in that. So we just kept playing hard. We got some stops on the other end, and guys stepped up and made some big plays.”

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Added coach Pat Kelsey: “Our guys battled. They responded to a whole lot of adversity at that point when the chips were down. So proud of our guys, and we’re excited to advance, and we’re fortunate to advance.”

Towson slid to 0-4 against No. 1 seeds in the CAA Tournament, following setbacks to VCU in 2004 and 2008 and Old Dominion in 2010. It fell to the Cougars for the second consecutive year and dropped to 0-3 all-time against them in the postseason.

Redshirt freshman point guard Dylan Williamson came off the bench to provide 13 points and three rebounds, but two starters for the Tigers finished with zero points. Point guard Nendah Tarke, a redshirt junior transfer from Coppin State, missed all eight of his shots and had as many turnovers (three) as rebounds, and junior small forward Tomiwa Sulaiman did not attempt a shot while compiling two rebounds, one steal and one turnover.

“Our defense overall was outstanding,” Skerry said. “To hold that team to 38% [shooting], we’ve kind of hung our hat on that all year. Our offense, I thought our effort was good, but we’ve been up and down offensively in some areas. That’s obviously going into the offseason, we finished sixth or seventh in the league in efficiency. We’ve got to figure out how to get back to the top three where we were for three years before that.”