Towson men’s basketball rallies past William & Mary, 67-56, in CAA Tournament second round

WASHINGTON — Two years ago, Towson men’s basketball did not have a fully healthy Charles Thompson, and that team’s run as the No. 1 seed in what was then known as the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament ended in the semifinals.

On Saturday, the Tigers went without Thompson for a spell, but avoided a similar fate.

Redshirt freshman point guard Dylan Williamson came off the bench to score 12 of his team-high 15 points in the second half, and Thompson returned after sitting out the first half to fortify a defense that shut out William & Mary for a nearly 11-minute stretch in the frame to complete a 67-56 comeback victory in a Coastal Athletic Association Tournament second-round game Saturday afternoon at the Entertainment & Sports Arena.

In addition to Williamson, redshirt junior point guard Nendah Tarke, a Coppin State transfer, racked up 14 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists, and junior small forward Tomiwa Sulaiman scored 12 points to send Towson (19-13), the No. 5 seed in the CAA Tournament, to a quarterfinal date with No. 4 seed UNCW (21-9) on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

The Tigers almost went one-and-done. They played the entire first half without the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Thompson as he stayed on the sideline for headbutting UNCW sophomore guard Nolan Hodge and getting ejected with 22 seconds left in a 75-64 loss on March 2.

At one point during the first half, Thompson got up to ride a stationary bike and jump up and down behind the team bench, but did not take off his warmup T-shirt. In his postgame conference, coach Pat Skerry did not directly address the rationale behind keeping the graduate student power forward on the sideline for the first 20 minutes.

“Charlie is the best,” Skerry said. “There’s not a guy in our locker room that wouldn’t do anything for Charles. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to interact with him for the last five years.”

With Thompson missing his first start of the season, Towson inserted 6-10, 255-pound graduate student Chase Paar into the starting five. Paar, a Mount Airy native and Glenelg Country graduate, finished with two rebounds, one assist and zero points in 12 minutes.

Without Thompson patrolling the middle, the Tribe owned slight leads of 20-17 in rebounds and 18-16 in points in the paint. Coach Dane Fischer acknowledged that Thompson’s absence opened the door for his offense to attack the lane.

“They’re different with him obviously because he is a terrific presence in the paint,” Fischer said. “He’s a phenomenal offensive rebounder, and where he probably makes the biggest difference for them is on the defensive end. Obviously, he was out there for a lot of that stretch in the second half where we couldn’t score. So I thought we were able to get some stuff offensively when he wasn’t out there, and when he was, it was a lot tougher.”

Although Thompson — who was not made available for comment despite a request — made his debut at the start of the second half, William & Mary took its biggest lead of the game at 44-38 with 14:22 left on back-to-back 3-pointers by the Dorsey brothers, junior small forward Caleb and junior shooting guard Gabe, both of whom grew up in Westminster.

But the Tribe did not score another point for the next 10:25. They missed 11 consecutive shots from the field and two free throws and turned the ball over four times.

The Tigers pounced, reeling off 20 unanswered points for a 58-44 advantage. Sophomore shooting guard Trey Moss’ 3-pointer with 3:57 remaining ended William & Mary’s drought, but Towson scored five more points to enjoy a 16-point cushion — its largest of the game — before cruising to the finish line.

While Thompson accounted for 10 points, six rebounds and three rebounds, Williamson powered the offense. He converted three of five 3-point attempts and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.

“Offensively, we just wanted to move the ball and get the best shot possible,” said Williamson, who joined freshman shoot guard Tyler Tejada on the CAA All-Rookie team on Thursday. “We started knocking them down in the second half.”

Related Articles

Skerry was grateful for Williamson’s eruption.

“This guy had a great game,” he said. “Never should have redshirted him a year ago, but he’s gotten so much better. Proud of him. He’s a tough kid, and he works at it.”

Gabe Dorsey led all scorers with 18 points, and sophomore point guard Chase Lowe chipped in 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. But Fischer rued the Tribe’s scoreless stretch that doomed them to an early exit to the offseason.

“They made it really hard for us to get any kind of advantage,” he said. “It was a lot of one-on-one, and it wasn’t because our guys weren’t trying. It was just that they’re really good defensively, and they made that stretch really tough for us.

“I thought we went to the rim a couple of times and just couldn’t get it to go even though we had a couple of good looks. We went to the foul line and missed a couple free throws, and I think a lot of that is a credit to the way Towson defends because they did a great job there.”

The Tigers will face a UNCW squad that is one of four teams that enjoyed a double-bye to the quarterfinal round. Although the sides split their season series, the Seahawks prevailed in the most recent meeting.

Skerry knows Towson’s best chance to get to the semifinals is to protect the ball. The team committed 19 turnovers in that 11-point loss, but only 11 in a 67-64 win Jan. 6.

“I would consider them the gold standard at this level,” he said. “They have terrific players, and they’re very well coached. The first thing is, we’ve got to make sure we take care of the basketball. For this team, that’s the No. 1 thing. If we can take care of the basketball, then hopefully we can find our way into some success in some other areas.”

CAA Tournament quarterfinals

Towson vs. UNCW

Entertainment & Sports Arena, Washington

Sunday, 2:30 p.m.