Crash The Boards: Physicality, Toughness Defines Towson

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Every basketball team has a defining trait. Few are as complimentary as that which Northeastern associate head coach Chris Markwood applied to Towson. 

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“Extremely tough, physical bunch,” he said. “The best offensive rebounding team in the [Colonial Athletic Association], that’s a huge part of their DNA. That’s their identity.”

Tigers coach Pat Skerry was self-effacing, if not jokingly deprecating, in response.  

“Some of our other teams, we had to be a good offensive rebounding team because we couldn’t make any shots,” he said. 

Towson shoots well, ranking 82nd in the nation in 3-point shooting at 35 percent. The Tigers are excellent at the foul line, too, going 78 percent as a team. Misses are not necessarily in abundance for them. 

When shots do carom off the rim, however, you better believe that black-and-gold jerseys swarm to the glass. 

That’s because Towson snags a remarkable 32.3 percent of its missed shots, the 49th-best offensive rebounding percentage in all of college basketball. That mark is made all the more impressive considering the Tigers are not one of the bigger lineups. 

They have 6-foot-9 Dennis Tunstall and 6-foot-8 Nakye Sanders, sure – two players who Skerry said “especially have done a good job” with offensive rebounds. And the numbers bear that out, with Sanders ranked No. 125 among all Div. I players in offensive rebounding percentage at 11.4, and Tunstall right behind at 11.1 percent, No. 142. 

In terms of sheer offensive rebounding output, Sanders grabs 2.1 per game and Tunstall snares 2.2. The duo sets the pace for a Towson bunch that has 352 total offensive rebounds on the year, 42nd-most in the country. 

Sanders and Tunstall are outstanding on the glass, to be sure, and neither is exactly a 7-foot skyscraper, either. 

“Yeah, we’ve been fortunate to have some competitive guys play with a little bit of edge, try to get to the glass,” Skerry said. “You hope you have guys who have to mindset to go after the ball with two hands.” 

Establishing that mindset starts in recruiting insomuch as a player needs to be wired for an aggressive approach on the boards. But Skerry and his staff also place particular emphasis on cultivating it through practice, too. 

The Tigers run a “live-rebounding drill” that, as Skerry detailed, can get pretty physical. 

“Most years, we do a ton of live rebounding in the preseason,” he said. “We used to have a rule, if we won on the glass, we wouldn’t rebound in practice. If we lost, we went back to live rebounding. 

“We haven’t done a live rebounding drill with this group since ... man … early October.”

Now, one reason for the layoff is that Towson’s been beaten on the boards just six times all season. The Tigers have been especially dominant on the glass during their ongoing run since Jan. 4, when they’ve been one of the nation’s hottest teams. 

But the team’s physicality also took an internal toll when Jason Gibson and Allen Betrand sustained concussions.    

“At that point, I was like, ‘We can’t lose anymore guys,’” Skerry said. “We’ve only got eight scholarship guys [who] are active for games right now. It’s hard to do anything contact-wise. We try to drill block-outs, drill film…and try to wind them up on game night.” 

Despite the less physical practices, the mentality remains Towson’s defining trait. When Northeastern’s Markwood says “you have to bring your hard hat with them,” it’s hardly just a metaphor. 

With the Huskies and Tigers meeting in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament, the battle on the boards may determine who advances to the semis more so than in any other game. 

“I hope we can hit it well on Sunday night,” Skerry said. “They have the best defensive rebounding percentage team in the league. They’re a good block-out team.”

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