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Towson Men's Basketball Eyeing First NCAA Tournament Bid Since 1991

January 19, 2018
Pat Skerry is a numbers guy.

No matter where the Towson men's basketball team is in its schedule, the head coach is often able to recall individual and team shooting statistics, offensive rebounds versus defensive rebounds, turnover margins and more. Whether Towson is ranked 166th in the country in field-goal percentage or 154th, Skerry will often have that information committed to memory.

But beyond all the metrics, there's one number that sticks out: zero. 

That is the number of regular-season championships, conference tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances the Tigers have recorded since joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001. 

Skerry's teams have posted 20-win seasons three times -- during the 2013-14 season and back-to-back in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns -- but have fallen short in CAA tournament play. 

After getting off to a 10-1 start -- the program's best in its Division I history -- in 2017-18, the Tigers look poised to post a third straight 20-win season. But after years of falling short of their goals, Skerry, now in his seventh season with Towson, is looking to make 2018 the year the Tigers return to the Big Dance for the first time since 1991. 

"That's what I came here for," Skerry said. "That's what the guys on staff are here for. That is the goal. We've been in the mix; I feel like we're going to be in the mix. But we've got to figure out a way where, hopefully, with a little bit of hard work and a little bit of good fortune, to get over the hump."

One metric that may favor the Tigers' postseason hopes is their revamped offense. Having a dynamic backcourt has been a key factor in the CAA Tournament the past few years. The University of North Carolina Wilmington, which has won back-to-back CAA championships and has built its offense around guards such as Chris Flemming and Denzel Ingram, led the conference in points per game and scoring margin during both championship campaigns. 

In previous seasons under Skerry, the Tigers have emphasized a solid defense and an offense centered around its frontcourt. Now, the Towson offense is built around a trio of guards in sophomore Zane Martin and seniors Deshaun Morman and Mike Morsell. 

"There's a million different ways to win," Skerry said. "I believe it's usually not easier to win shooting jump shots and things like that on consecutive days. Now, our group this year is built a little bit differently. We have a little bit more offensive firepower than we've ever had."

Another significant set of numbers for Skerry may have come in December. After the Tigers' fast start to the season, the university rewarded him with another contract extension -- his second since March 2016. Details of the new deal have not been made public.

"I hope to be here a long, long time," Skerry said. "I work for great people, and I've got an awesome place, and we're certainly not done yet. I would hope it helps out staff and recruiting, because a lot of times when you have some success, other schools use that against you recruiting. I think the hope we can get across by this is that the grass is not always greener. We're very, very happy here."

With a new deal, a new offense and a historic start to the 2017-18 season, Skerry hopes to finally make a postseason bid with Tigers. The veteran coach knows, however, that a bit of luck also plays into the final equation.

"I was with Coach [Jamie] Dixon at Pitt," Skerry said. "I remember people complaining about never making it to the Final Four, and I remember thinking, ‘This is the winningest coach in the history of the Big East in conference games.' And the reality is they got beat a couple times at the buzzer in the Big East Tournament. These things are not series, they're not best-of-three or best-of-seven. It's part of the beauty of college basketball with the Final Four. Rarely does the best team win it all, and I'm not saying the best team doesn't win the conference tournament, but you got to have a little bit of good fortune, too." 

Photo Credit: Alex Edelman/PressBox

Issue 241: January / February 2018 

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the length of Skerry's contract. PressBox regrets the error.