By Tim Klapac
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Pat Skerry smiled and looked to his left.
His team had just beaten George Washington 72-58 on opening night, and the Towson men’s basketball coach took pleasure in seeing that everyone at the postgame press conference now knew what he learned more than a year ago: Juwan Gray is an impact player.
Gray, a redshirt junior forward, gave Towson a much-needed spark Tuesday at SECU Arena, scoring 17 points off the bench in Towson’s win.
“We were trying to get [Gray] eligible for a reason — he gives us a weapon that we haven’t had,” Skerry said.
The Dover, Delaware, native transferred from the University of San Diego in 2018 following his sophomore season. In his two seasons with the Toreros, Gray’s defense shined, something that turned Skerry onto Gray when he hit the transfer portal.
After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Gray quickly shook off the rust, shooting 6-for-9 from the field in 28 minutes. He had four defensive rebounds and two of Towson’s seven steals.
“It felt good, all the work that I put in last season and this offseason is starting to pay off,” he said.
Skerry was unable to get Gray eligible immediately, forcing him to sit out last season. Gray said the year off helped him grow.
“I think it just all comes with maturity,” he said.
The Tigers made the most of their first season opener at SECU Arena since the venue opened in 2013 by forcing nine first-half turnovers.
The defense made up for a difficult start for the offense as Towson was shooting 36 percent before a 13-2 run to close the first half gave the Tigers a 32-23 lead.
Towson’s aggression almost came back to hurt the team in the second half as some of its starters got into foul trouble. The Tigers put the Colonials in the bonus with more than 12 minutes to play in the game.
Towson was able to avoid surrendering the lead thanks to Gray and freshman guard Jason Gibson, who combined to score all 28 of the Tigers bench points. The improved depth is something that Towson lacked last year due to injuries to many of its bench players. With the roster healthier this year, the results are already showing.
“Last year we had [10 new players] and it was new to everybody,” Gray said. “With this offseason, we all had a chance to play together a lot more and develop relationships. Those relationships off the court can transition into success on the court.”
George Washington could not match Towson’s depth, producing just 10 bench points. Freshman guard Jameer Nelson Jr. led the Colonials in points, assists and was tied for the lead in rebounds. Nelson, whose father was a standout at St. Joseph’s and in the NBA, scored 15 points in his college debut.
Sophomore guard Allen Betrand was the offensive anchor for the Tigers, leading the team with 18 points, 13 of which came in the first half. For a team that averaged a conference-low 67.8 points per game last season, the 72 points scored in the season opener is a sign that the team is growing.
“We got a new point guard, [Gibson] moved the ball and everybody’s starting to buy in,” he said. “We didn’t buy in last year and that’s why we lost. Everybody is buying in as a team and [the win] is the result.”
Skerry said his team made offensive adjustments in the offseason that he sees as the difference maker in this game and beyond.
“I couldn’t get our group to win close games last year,” he said. “We’ve started by changing some things offensively and we implemented and worked on it and we’re in a decent place right now.”
Now that Gray is no longer waiting to play, his performance could be just what Towson needs to improve this season. The Tigers will stay home for the next week, hosting Bryn Athyn College on Friday and Kent State on Monday. Both games will tipoff at 7 p.m. from SECU Arena.