As I was looking at Friday's matchups for the first round of the CAA Tournament, Towson v. Delaware looked least compelling on paper. Mainly because Towson had not looked much like a D-I team this season, but also, the first day of the CAA Tournament has not drawn particularly well, especially when two former East Coast Conference teams are playing in the game. But I went with my gut that the two teams would put on a show for us loyal CAA Northerners, and they truly did.
After scalping a few front-row tickets for the grand total of five dollars apiece, my two buddies and I had primetime seats for the game. I had not seen either team in person during the year, so I was curious to see how some of the players had developed from last season, particularly Delaware's Jamelle Hagins and Devon Saddler, who did not disappoint.
Towson shocked the world and took a very early 5-2 lead. I figured this would be the last lead Towson had this season, maybe ever in event of an apocalypse, so I snapped a picture:
But Delaware controlled the pace for most of the first half. The Hens kept a fluid, uptempo pace, which seemed to frustrate Towson on both sides of the court. Towson head coach Pat Skerry was subbing forwards like a mad man to keep his players out of foul trouble. I seemingly glanced down at the media guide, and Delaware had opened up a double-digit lead.
In the midst of a seemingly inevitable Towson beatdown, there was a frightening moment for the Hens. Senior Hakeem McCullar got landed on when going for a loose ball, the thud with which McCullar's head hit the court was sickening, and he appeared to lay motionless on the court a few minutes that seemed like hours. Thankfully he was able to walk off the court on his own power, but Hakeem McCullar's collegiate career was unceremoniously finished, as he missed the rest of the tournament with a concussion.
Despite the McCullar scare, UDel proceeded to extend the lead, as much as 18 points with 6:34 remaining in the first half.
At this point, even the most die-hard CAA fan's mind begins to wander. "I wonder if they have hot pretzels at the food stand?" "Wow, Monte' Ross has a shiny head...not as shiny as my eighth-grade band director though."
Thankfully, I was snapped back into reality as Towson finally got the break they were waiting for all season. Jamelle Hagins picked up his second foul and had to leave the game with 8:24 left in the first half. On the back of junior forward Robert Nwankwo, the Tigers were able to bring it to a respectable 36-25 deficit at halftime, giving the three EXTREMELY loyal fans in the Towson student section a glimmer of hope.
An 11-point halftime deficit still seemed steep for Towson, so my buddies and I started to breakdown the inevitable Delaware-ODU matchup the next afternoon (consensus was UD had a chance to pull off the upset). But Towson began to play like a team on the brink of elimination, or at least a team looking to discredit my prognosticating abilities. Hagins picked up his third foul only a minute into the second half, which gave Nwankwo a free pass to go into beast mode.
Nwankwo was ripping down boards like the Cookie Monster would if the basketball was a giant chocolate chip cookie. The pace of the game slowed down, and Delaware could not contain Nwankwo offensively with Hagins in foul trouble. Hagins picked up his fourth foul with nine and change on the clock, and Towson was able to tie the game at 53 with 7:37 remaining, sending the hundreds, maybe thousands of fans in the Richmond Coliseum into an uproar.
The Fighting Blue Hens had an ace in the hole though, and he goes by the name of Devon Saddler. The sophomore was second-team All-CAA, and in this writers opinion, the most talented scorer in the conference. Just when it looked to be crumbling for Delaware, Saddler hit back-to-back three-pointers to break Towson's momentum. Saddler's 14 points in the final seven minutes propelled Delaware into the CAA quarterfinals with a 72-65 victory.
Delaware definitely found out that no CAA Tournament can be taken for granted. With the considerable returning talent the Hens have led by Saddler, I expect to see them deeper into that first March weekend in Richmond next year.
Nwankwo finished with 27 points and 20 boards, the first player in CAA history to go 20-20 in a Tournament game. Towson showed so much guts and desire, but still came up short an agonizing 31st time this year. But there was a caveat. In the waning seconds when the fate of the game was sealed, a rouge fan began chanting "Towson covered! Towson covered!" I do not know what the spread was for the game, but you have to start reaching for victories while enduring a 1-31 season. At least one fan went home happy.
DELAWARE 72, TOWSON 65 03/02/2012
TOWSON 1-31 (1-17) -- K. Walden 5-12 2-2 13; D. Jones 3-10 1-2 7; R. Nwankwo 8-22 11-15 27; M. Damas 1-7 0-0 3; J. Pressley 3-8 2-2 8; E. Gumbs 2-6 0-0 4; W. Adams 0-0 0-0 0; A. Giergen 1-2 0-0 3; J. Flash 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 23-68 16-23 65. DELAWARE 18-12 (12-6) -- J. Brinkley 5-8 4-4 14; D. Saddler 7-19 10-12 28; J. Threatt 3-12 9-11 15; K. Anderson 1-6 0-0 3; K. Lewis 0-0 2-4 2; J. Hagins 4-6 1-5 9; L. Savage 0-1 0-0 0; K. McNeil 0-0 1-2 1; H. McCullar 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-52 27-38 72.
Three-point goals: TOWS 3-10 (A. Giergen 1-2; M. Damas 1-3; D. Jones 0-1; K. Walden 1-4), DEL 5-20 (D. Saddler 4-9; J. Threatt 0-5; K. Anderson 1-6); Rebounds: TOWS 48 (R. Nwankwo 20), DEL 27 (J. Hagins 7); Assists: TOWS 7 (K. Walden 3), DEL 11 (K. Lewis 3); Total Fouls -- TOWS 27, DEL 16; Fouled Out: TOWS-J. Pressley; DEL-None.