The Towson women’s basketball team has a little bit of everything.
The Tigers are one of the top scoring teams in the Colonial Athletic Association. They’re nationally ranked in rebounding. They lead the CAA in field-goal defense. They’re deep, talented and building something special under fifth-year coach Diane Richardson.
Yep, Towson’s got everything. Well, except games.
The 9-1 Tigers haven’t played since a Dec. 11 win at American, their sixth straight victory to that point but then COVID-19 protocols claimed the next five contests, including a hurry-up-and-let’s-try-to-play-added-game with Seton Hall Jan. 4.
“We were on a roll but now we’re in a little bit of a stop,” Richardson said. “We’re just trying to make it now.”
The caged Tigers return to action Jan. 7 at home against CAA foe Elon after an absence from game action for 27 days. Suffice to say, the Towson team is sick of looking at each other in black and gold practice gear.
“I love playing with them but it’s getting kind of boring,” said Anissa Rivera, who leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots. “We haven’t played a game in a month. We love playing and it’s tough. We’re all excited to play again.”
“We’re all drooling to play a game coming up,” said Allie Kubek, named to the CAA All-Rookie Team last year and playing even better this season.
Baltimore point guard Aleah Nelson agreed. She transferred back “home” from Cincinnati last year and earned second-team All-CAA honors right out the gate. Now the 5-foot-6 junior is again leading the team (and the conference) with 6.7 assists per game, and the McDonogh product is third in the CAA at 17.2 points per game, ramrodding an offense averaging 79.8 points.
“She transferred in here last year and has come in and really been a leader on the court,” Richardson said. “She put in a lot of work this summer and it shows. She set a record at NC State, scoring 39 points in their gym and she’s doing that consistently — scoring in double figures and leading us in assists, as well.”
Nelson’s offensive outburst keyed an 87-70 win against Florida in Raleigh, N.C., Towson’s first victory against a Power Five foe in 12 years and broke a 30-year-old Reynolds Coliseum women’s scoring record. She added eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals, putting the Gators in a full-Nelson in the Preseason WNIT Classic.
The problem for opponents this season and the reason Towson is ranked No. 18 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 is that Nelson has lots of help — just the way Richardson has planned it.
“We call it equal-opportunity offense,” the coach said. “We have players that can score from every position, and we put them in positions where they can score.”
The 6-foot-1 Kubek out of Elkton, Md., started all 22 games last year, the first Towson freshman to do so since 2006-07. She averaged 8.8 points, led the team with 7.1 rebounds and hit 46 percent of her shots. This year’s numbers: Fifth in the CAA with 15.7 points and second with 61 percent shooting from the field. She’s also chipping in 5.5 rebounds and is a mismatch issue for foes since she can bounce outside and shoot the three.
“Last year I wasn’t really confident with my offense around the rim or shooting,” she said. “This year I worked in the offseason on my shooting and my body, and my confidence has definitely built.”
“Coach Rich” would love that answer. When talking about how she likes to build a program, that word “confidence” came up quickly and often.
“It starts with confidence,” Richardson said. “We want every player to develop confidence in their skill set, have confidence in their shot, confidence in their abilities, just confidence on and off the court.”
That confidence currently flows throughout the program. After Kubek tore her ACL in high school, the Tigers were the first to offer her a scholarship. She got healthy, won Gatorade Delaware Player of the Year at Sanford School and has flourished at Towson with the confidence coaches have shown in her.
Richardson has brought in transfers and yes, immediately shown them confidence, too, handing them big roles in the rebuild. It was Nelson last year and now the 6-foot-1 Rivera this season.
Rivera, from Capitol Heights, Md., is averaging 12.4 points, and ranks in the top five in the CAA in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (1.1). She was Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season at North Carolina Central, averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. Rivera was drawn back home by Richardson, whom she was familiar with from playing against Richardson’s powerhouse Riverdale Baptist and on the AAU circuit.
“I knew Coach Rich for a few years, and she has always been a good coach and outside of basketball, a good person and I just felt like I’d be good here,” said Rivera, who has put more roar in the Tiger defense.
Richardson coached absolute basketball powerhouses at Riverdale Baptist, with the Upper Marlboro, Md., program winning five national championships and ranking in the USA Today’s Top 10 in five of her eight seasons. During two stints with the Crusaders, Richardson had a 234-32 record. She has also been a college assistant at West Virginia, George Washington, Maryland and American.
Now she has Towson trending up, too.
“We’re just really good all-around,” Nelson confided confidently. “Our chemistry is so good. We’ve added a lot of new people and we’ve got more experience and great communication.”
The Tigers are expecting James Madison transfer Rayne Tucker, just getting over her torn ACL, to start contributing more. The 6-foot-1 New Carrollton, Md., product scored 10.3 points per game at James Madison last year and is already a two-time All-CAA honoree. Coach Rich may not be ready to break up that titanic Towson starting five, though.
Call it the “AAA” (Triple A) lineup with Alleah, Allie and Anissa — and call them if you’re having any trouble on the road (or at home for that matter) — along with 5-foot-10 sophomore Tarriyonna Gary, who is chipping in a quiet 10.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and 5-foot-10 East Carolina transfer Ryann Evans, who leads the team with 1.9 steals and is second with 6.9 rebounds.
Newcomers Evans and Rivera have been particularly key, with the Tigers ranking 34th nationally in rebounding margin (+8.6). That’s how the Towson fast break often starts. The relentless offense is why the Tigers are chewing up opponents by 20.8 points, the 15th-highest margin of victory in the nation.
Senior guard Skye Williams has been steady off the bench all season with 7.4 points in 18.4 minutes, and 6-foot senior Narrie Dodson has also appeared in every game, averaging 13 minutes. Richardson, obviously a proven recruiter, has a lot of players who need minutes and more games.
A positive COVID-19 test in the program in mid-December triggered the first two cancellations on the schedule and then positive tests for the next three opponents cost Towson games in a skein of bad luck. The game at Drexel, postponed Dec. 31, will be played Jan. 18, and the Jan. 2 game at Delaware will also be rescheduled.
The Elon (8-2) tilt Friday at 7 p.m., at SECU Arena signals a stretch of four of five conference games at home, a chance for the Tigers, picked fourth in the CAA preseason poll, to pounce on a fast start.
The Tigers, not surprisingly, are confident they can.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Towson Athletics