Towson Tigers Preview and Q&A

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015 With 0 Comments

TV: None
WJFK 106.7; WGMU
Stream (Free):
Towson Sports Network

Mason fans have waited almost three years for this opportunity, as the Patriots and the Towson Tigers renew their rivalry tonight at 7pm in Towson, for the first time since George Mason left the CAA in 2013. The Tigers defeated the Patriots in Fairfax in February 2013, ending a 20-game winning streak for the Green and Gold in what has been a one-sided rivalry. Mason leads the all-time series, 32-9, and only lost that one final game as conference foes.

The Tigers (4-3) opened the season with a respectable 78-76 loss at La Salle in Philadelphia, before defeating Morgan State in their home opener. Towson also participated in the Charleston Classic, losing to Ole Miss and to Oklahoma State in the first two rounds before defeating Bradley, 62-60, in the seventh place game. Since their return from Charleston, the Tigers have won twice, defeating Gallaudet at home and Coppin State in the road.

Tonight marks George Mason’s (3-4) first visit to SECU Arena, which opened in 2013, replacing the old Towson Center. First year Patriots head coach Dave Paulsen (399-218) will be looking for his 400th career win tonight, while the Tigers will be looking for their first home win over the Patriots since 1992.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Robert Canady, who has covered Towson and the CAA for the past five seasons for WNST Radio and other various media outlets. I asked some questions about this season’s Towson Tiger squad, and what’s changed in the last 2-3 years. Sophomore point guard Byron Hawkins is a key to the Tigers offense, averaging 16.9 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 45.7% from beyond the arc. What has made Hawkins so effective this season?

RC: He summed it up in one word after the Coppin State game: Confidence. He is much more confident this year. In earlier interviews, Hawkins said he wasn’t physically ready for college basketball last year, and has gotten stronger and worked on his outside shot endlessly over the summer to gain that confidence.

He also is playing the point better than anyone has since Pat Skerry has been there. He is under control and making great decisions. Some long time Towson followers say he’s the best since Mike Green (who played for Towson from 2003-05). His assist to turnover ratio is very good. He would have a lot more assists if not for at least a dozen missed point blank layups by Foster, Rivera, and Davis over the first 6 games. As a 6’5″ shooting guard, Mike Morsell has a potential size advantage against most opponents, but despite averaging 10 points per game, he has only shot 26.6% from the field this season. How important is Morsell’s efficiency to the Tigers’ offense?

RC: Skerry has made no bones about saying, for Towson to accomplish what it wants to accomplish (CAA Championship), Morsell will have to be a big part of the offense. Where Hawkins has shown tremendous confidence, Morsell has let the slow start weigh on him and affect his decision making. He looks very hesitant at times. He got off to a 4-4 start in the first 10 minutes at Coppin and seemed poised for a big game, but foul trouble limited him the rest of the way. He has played mostly the two, but the emergence of Jordan McNeil at the two the last two games has moved Morsell to the three a bit and Moto to the 4. That’s a small lineup, but has looked very good in stretches and presents multiple outside threats.

Hawkins and Morsell are part of a trio of sophomores, along with Eddie Keith II, who all got significant minutes in the second part of the conference season last year. Keith is alternating between the 1 and 2. Skerry likes him at the two as he is physically tough and gives them a good rebounding guard who plays tough defense. But he has not established a consistent outside shot and tends to be focused toward the right side of the floor at this point in his career. Rebounding for the Tigers has been a team effort, with four players averaging between 5 and 7 rebounds per game. With 6’8″ Walter Foster as the tallest regular contributor, how can the Tigers slow down George Mason’s 6’11” rebounding machine, Shevon Thompson?

RC: Thompson is going to be a huge concern for them. Nothing official, but I would expect them to double team him with Foster and with Parker Rivera helping out by fronting him. I expect Thompson to have a big game, both in rebounding and scoring. Towson will probably end up using a lot of zone to minimize any potential foul trouble on the bigs. In Charleston, Pat Skerry primarily relied upon a seven-man rotation, but since their return, he has dipped a little deeper into his bench. Who are the key contributors from the Towson bench?

RC: They have been banged up early in the season, John Davis was limited in coming back from his injury (broken foot) Jordan McNeil had a concussion and minor knee injury. If Davis isn’t starting, he is the biggest part of the bench: he had more double-doubles last year in games he did not start than anybody else in the country. McNeil has been a big spark offensively off the bench with his outside shooting. Alex Thomas, a 6’9″ freshman, has the size and will become a bigger factor off the bench as the season progresses. Right now he is very young, and struggles defensively. Look for Skerry to play 9 players in double digit minutes. The last time George Mason saw Towson, Pat Skerry had pulled the program from the abyss of a 1-31 season and the Tigers defeated the Patriots in Fairfax in February 2013 on their way to an 18-win season. The next season, Jerrelle Benimon’s senior year, the Tigers won 25 games. What’s changed for Towson since Benimon graduated?

RC: Benimon graduated. That simple 🙂

Seriously, last year they expected more production from Timjah Parker Rivera as a junior and Four McGlynn (a then-redshirt junior who transferred to Rhode Island last offseason). Neither were ready to be “the guy” or lead. Both were great supplemental players under Benimon and Burwell. So the team struggled to find offense on just about every night.

Arnaud William Adala Moto (or Moto for short) is a 6’6″ bull of a transfer from Wake Forest. He averaged 10 points a game as a sophomore in the ACC. The talk all offseason was that he would be another Benimon. He started out with 28 points against LaSalle, but struggled in the Charleston Tournament. He has bounced back with two solid games, although not against very tough competition. He isn’t the rebounding horse that Benimon was, but he showed some very good post up moves in the Coppin State game, and he does get to the free throw line a lot. He is not a threat from the outside (from what he has shown throughout his career). The Tigers were picked seventh in the preseason CAA poll. What are some realistic expectations for Towson this season, and what would they need to do to contend in the CAA this year?

RC: Skerry has made no secret he feels this team is much better than seventh, and has used that ranking as incentive. However, they are struggling to find their identity at this point. As mentioned, the early injuries only allowed the entire team to practice together twice the entire preseason. Combine that with the fact that Moto had to finish some classes at Wake Forest over the summer, and then played with the Cameroon National Team, so he really didn’t start practicing with the team until the fall practice started.

As with all Skerry teams, they will play tough defense and most likely rebound very well. They need to find a “big three.” Hawkins is no doubt the proven leader of the team at this point. If Morsell can regain the promise he showed at the end of last year, and Moto can deliver as expected, they can challenge in the CAA, which is a very strong league again this year. Hofstra, Northeeastern, UNCW and William & Mary all returned at least four starters from teams that tied for first place last year.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

Leave a comment

You must be Logged in to post comment.