TOWSON, Md. — Erique Gumbs learned a valuable lesson a couple of days ago after Towson coach Pat Skerry tried to inspire his team that had lost an NCAA-record 41 straight games, showing them Muhammad Ali's famous "rope-a-dope" boxing match against George Foreman.
"It just showed that you can take a lot of hits, but you definitely get your turn to swing back," said Gumbs, a sophomore forward, who scored 11 points in Towson's 66-61 win over UNC Wilmington on Saturday. "We may get beat down, but we always knew that we had the ability to fight. We finally got to throw our punch today."
Marcus Damas scored 18 points for the Tigers (1-22, 1-10 Colonial Athletic Association), who had lost in 10 different states during their losing streak and had not scored more than 62 points in any game this season. But in front of the crowd of 881 at the Towson Center Arena, Towson was able to come through with the win.
"This was a great win," said Skerry, the Tigers' first-year coach, who showed the Ali-Foreman fight to his team on Thursday. "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."
Robert Nwankwo had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, helping Towson win the battle of the boards 41-29.
"We guarded and we rebounded and we didn't take a lot of 3s, so that's kind of a winning formula," Skerry said.
The Tigers trailed 38-34 in the second half before Nwankwo scored on a layup and Damas added five straight points to put the Tigers back on top, 41-38.
UNC Wilmington (8-13, 4-7) battled back to tie the game at 52-all. But Damas made another jumper, sparking an 8-1 run to give the Tigers a 60-53 lead with 1:25 left to play.
The Seahawks then converted two 3-pointers and Keith Rendleman made a layup to draw within one, 62-61, with 33 seconds left, but Rendleman missed two free throws at the 20 second mark.
Gumbs made a bucket in the paint and Deon Jones knocked down two free throws after Nwankwo blocked an Adam Smith 3-point attempt to seal the win.
The victory was the first career win at Towson for Skerry.
Despite trailing 32-29 at halftime, Towson outscored UNC Wilmington 37-29 in the second half and held the Seahawks to 37 percent (10 of 27) shooting during the period.
Towson shot 57.9 percent (11 of 19) in the second half — after shooting 42.3 percent (11 of 26) in the first — and outscored the Seahawks 32-16 in the paint.
It was the Tigers' first victory since a win at La Salle on Dec. 29, 2010.