By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Sophomore Deverin Muff’s two clutch free throws with 1.4 seconds left in overtime gave the Colonels a hard-fought 71-69 win Saturday over Towson at McBrayer Arena.
Muff’s heroics came after he was chosen by Towson coach Pat Skerry to shoot the free throws for Corey Walden, who was injured after coming up with a steal in the final seconds.
Muff, who admitted he isn’t a great free throw shooter, said he was nervous, but he looked like a seasoned veteran at the line as he calmly sank both shots.
“Yeah, I was scared,” Muff said. “Every week coach has us make a certain number of free throws after practice and I’m usually the last person to finish. So for me to make those free throws is huge.”
EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said the free throws were just another example of Muff’s maturity.
“Deverin Muff, I can’t say enough about him. He was huge in overtime. For him to go to the free throw line and knock down four in a row, just absolutely clutch. I’m really proud of him,” Neubauer said.
Neubauer said the win over a Towson team that featured a big front line and had several Big East transfers in the lineup, was a big accomplishment for his team early in the year.
“They beat a team tonight with three Big East transfers out there. That is a very talented basketball team. They play in the Colonial (Athletic Association) which is an outstanding conference. Towson will be the most improved team in the country this year,” Neubauer said. “Every team at this time of year is going through this learning, growing process and if you can win while you are learning and growing just makes everything so much better for everyone in the locker room.”
The Colonels fell behind 5-0 to start the game before getting things going, scoring the next 10 points — by five different players. From that point the teams traded leads several time before the Colonels began to solve the Towson defense and began to build a lead.
A long three pointer by Mike DiNunno and a three point play by Tarius Johnson gave the Colonels a three-point cushion at 27-24. EKU then scored seven of the last nine points of the half on two free throws each by DiNunno and Eric Stutz and a buzzer beating three pointer by DiNunno to give the Colonels a 34-28 halftime lead.
The momentum continued early in the second half as EKU built a 45-35 lead with 16 minutes to go in regulation.
But the Towson defense stiffened, holding EKU scoreless for more than three minutes a couple of times as the Tigers chipped away at the lead, before taking a one point lead at 54-53 with 2:30 left in the half.
Neubauer said the Towson defense was the reason for the scoring drought.
“I have to give Towson credit for that. They really did make our shots tough during that stretch when we couldn’t score,” Neubauer said. “We were up 10 and they cut into it, cut into it, they really defended. We were taking contested shots but a lot of it was because their defense was that good.”
Each time the Colonels needed a big shot a different player stepped forward. After a scoring drought in the first half, little used substitute Robbie Stenzel came in and nailed a long three pointer from the top of the circle. In the second half, it was Walden, DiNunno, Jeff Johnson and Glenn Cosey who came through with big shots each time the Colonels needed them most.
“That’s the thing about our team. We’ve got a lot of guys who can go for a lot of points on any given night and we have a lot of guys on the wing that can really shoot,” DiNunno said.
After a DiNunno heavily contested driving layup and a Johnson’s three with 1:25 left put the Colonel’s ahead 58-54, the Tigers rallied once more to tie the game and forced overtime.
While Muff hit the game winner, the Colonels had several players step up in an overtime that featured six lead changes.
After Towson took a two-point lead on a basket by Jerrelle Benimon, Muff scored on a strong postup move to tie it at 60-60. Jeff Johnson followed that up a minute later with a basket inside after pinpoint pass in traffic by Cosey, to once again give the Colonels a one point lead at 63-62 after Benimon had put the Tigers back on top with a basket.
Cosey hit two free throws to extend the EKU lead, but after the Tigers fought back and took a 67-65 lead, Walden tied the score with a layup on an assist by DiNunno with 45 seconds left that set the stage for Muff’s four free throws to seal the game.
Neubauer said he was proud of the way his team fought back in overtime.
DiNunno led the way for EKU with 17 points, followed by Cosey with 13, his third straight game in double figures.
Stutz finished with nine points, while Tarius Johnson and Muff had eight points each, Jeff Johnson had seven points and seven rebounds, while Walden chipped in four Stenzel three and Timmy Knipp had one.
With the win, the Colonels are 3-0 to begin a season for the first time since 2003-2004. They will be back in action today at 5 p.m. against Radford.