During the 2014-15 season, the Towson University men's basketball team lost 20 of 32 games. While it's easy to call any losing campaign a "rebuilding year," that title only makes sense when the needs of the program are addressed.
A component missing from the Tigers' roster was a closer -- somebody who could take over the offense late during close games -- as 11 of the Tigers' 20 losses last season were decided by five points or fewer.
Towson sophomore shooting guard Mike Morsell finds that role to be quite doable. During the 2015-16 season, Morsell has consistently been one of the Tigers' top offensive threats. In a game against Colonial Athletic Association rival Delaware Jan. 30, Morsell hit a late 3-pointer in what proved to be the decisive blow during the Tigers' 101-97 overtime win.
Head coach Pat Skerry said Morsell's emergence as a clutch shooter was something the coaching staff knew would help replace one of the many roles former Towson star Jerrelle Benimon played from 2012-14.
"He's a guy we expect big things from," Skerry said of Morsell. "We rode him the last dozen games of the year last year. He's had good games this year, and now he's starting to play at a more consistent level. ... You got to have a couple of closers that win you games. We weren't good last year -- we couldn't close games. Two years ago, we had this guy named Benimon who closed a lot of games for us."
The win against Delaware capped a strong seven-day stretch for the Tigers, when they recorded three of their six wins in January. In those three victories, Morsell averaged 18.3 points while the Tigers won by an average margin of six points.
"He had a good week, and I've always been excited about Mike," Skerry said. "He's a confident kid. He plays with great energy. He plays both ends of the floor for us. He's made big shots. He'll take big shots. I think that's closer to what we expected coming into the season -- certainly if he's that consistent moving down the stretch."
"I think, in this league, you got to have a couple of closers, one or two closers to help you get over the hump, because everybody's so good in the guts of a game."
Morsell embraces the closer role after contributing during the latter part of his freshman year in 2014-15. Last season, Morsell scored in double figures in three of the team's final four games.
During the overtime period against Delaware, Morsell scored nine of the Tigers' 18 points.
"I wanted the ball at the end of the game," Morsell said. "Last year, I made a lot of big shots down the stretch, and that's kind of my role right now, to make big plays and make big shots at the end of the game. Against Delaware, I hit a few big shots, a couple threes down the stretch."
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Morsell feels there are more opportunities to contribute to the Tigers' offense as a bigger guard.
"This offseason, I focused on getting bigger and stronger," Morsell said. "Last year, I was getting pushed around and posted up on a lot. Coach Skerry is really big on rebounding and just being real gritty on the offensive and defensive ends. So you need to be strong and play big."
Skerry said the combination of Morsell's talent and size at such a young age has made him a special type of offensive weapon.
"We think he's arguably our most talented guy," Skerry said. "He's the youngest guy in our program. His body developed a lot this offseason, and he's now 210, 212 pounds and 6-foot-5 at the two-guard with a 71-[inch] reach. He can shoot it, get fouled, get on the glass. He's capable of being good defensively."
Going into the final month of the regular season, Morsell hopes his contributions late in games will once again make him a force during the latter part of Towson's schedule. The difference now? The Tigers entered February in second place in CAA conference standings.
"We're definitely more confident [this year]," Morsell said. "Last year, we didn't really have an identity. Now, this year, we've beat some of the best teams. We really think we can win the whole thing this time."