TOWSON, Md. – Senior Robert Nwankwo scored 12 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots as the Tigers (1-22, 1-10) snapped their NCAA record 41-game losing streak with a 66-61 Colonial Athletic Association victory over UNC Wilmington (8-13, 4-7) at the Towson Center on Saturday afternoon.
One of four Tigers to score in double figures, Nwankwo preserved the win with two seconds remaining when he blocked a three-point field goal attempt by freshman guard Adam Smith. Freshman Deon Jones grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He sealed the victory by connecting on two free throws with 0.3 seconds remaining.
The victory was the first career win at Towson for Coach Pat Skerry. It was the Tigers' first victory since a win at LaSalle on Dec. 29, 2010 - some 395 days ago.
In a game that featured six ties and four lead changes, the Tigers took the lead for good when sophomore Marcus Damas hit a jump shot with 5:48 remaining in the game, putting the Tigers ahead, 54-52. While the Tigers held the Seahawks without a basket for nearly five minutes, they used an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 60-52 with 1:33 remaining.
Sophomore Erique Gumbs, who scored 11 points with eight rebounds, had one of the biggest baskets during the spurt as he made a steal near midcourt and slammed home a breakaway dunk with 3:32 left in the game.
In the final 85 seconds, the Seahawks staged a valiant comeback. After freshman KK Simmons made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 60-53, a three-point basket by sophomore Tanner Milson made it 60-56 with 57 seconds remaining. After Nwankwo made it 61-56 by hitting one of two free throws, senior Trevor DeLoach cut the deficit to 61-59 by connecting on a three-pointer with 45 seconds remaining.
Just three seconds later, Jones was fouled in the backcourt. He kept the UNCW hopes alive by making one of two free throws to give Towson a 62-59 advantage. With the Tigers guarding the three-point circle, junior Keith Rendelman broke free underneath for a layup to cut the deficit to 62-61 with 33 seconds remaining.
Moments later, Smith stole the ball in the backcourt, giving the Seahawks a great chance to take the lead. After Smith missed a jumper, Rendelman got the rebound and was fouled with 20 seconds remaining. However, Rendelman missed both free throws and Nwankwo grabbed the rebound. He passed the ball upcourt to Gumbs, who jammed it home for a 64-61 Tiger lead with nine seconds left.
When Nwankwo blocked Smith’s three-pointer, the Tigers had ended their 41-game losing streak.
"This was a great win,” said Skerry, the Tigers’ first-year head coach. “I am really happy for my guys. Sometimes people think it's ‘coach speak’ when talking about how hard the guys have been working, but they really have been every day."
The Tigers, who lost their final 19 games last year, broke Sacramento State’s NCAA record 34-game losing streak when they lost to Old Dominion on Jan. 7.
In their milestone victory on Saturday, the Tigers jumped out to a 13-5 lead in the first six minutes of the game. However, UNCW came back and used a 7-0 run to take a 26-19 lead with 4:44 remaining in the half. Still trailing by 32-25 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, the Tigers cut their deficit to 32-29 by scoring twice in the final 47 seconds.
En route to scoring a season high 66 points, the Tigers were led by Damas, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. Jones matched his career high with 15 points while making five of seven shots from the floor. Nwankwo posted his ninth “double double” of the season and the 18th of his career. Gumbs shot 5-for-10 from the field and scored 11 points with eight rebounds.
Led by Nwankwo, the Tigers outrebounded UNCW by a 41-29 margin, the fifth straight game in which the Tigers outrebounded their opponents.
Sophomore Donte Morales led UNCW with 17 points while Rendelman scored 16 points with 10 rebounds.
The Tigers will be seeking their second consecutive win when they travel to Hofstra on Wednesday night.