It goes without saying that in order to beat the Towson Tigers the first order of business is to slow down forward Jerrelle Benimon. In Towson’s 80-68 win over Drexel on January 14 the preseason CAA Player of the Year was outstanding, accounting for 27 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Clearly Benimon was going to be at the top of Drexel’s scouting report for Saturday’s rematch.
Unfortunately for the Dragons there were unable to slow down Benimon, who accounted for 25 points and eight rebounds in Towson’s 75-73 victory. Benimon made eight of his 12 field goal attempts and shot 9-for-11 from the foul line, leading the way for a Towson team that shot 57.5% from the field on the day. Also scoring in double figures for Pat Skerry’s Tigers were Rafriel Guthrie, who scored 18 points off the bench, and starter Marcus Damas (16 points).
Frantz Massenat led four Drexel players in double figures with 18 points, but fellow starter Chris Fouch (ten points) shot just 3-for-13 from the field. Towson moved to 5-2 in CAA play with the win, remaining two games behind Delaware (8-0) in the loss column.
In his first season as head coach at Towson, Pat Skerry won just one game with that victory ending the program’s 41-game losing streak. The Tigers would go on to finish the 2011-12 season with a 1-31 record, but due to the work Skerry did both within the program and on the recruiting trail many were of the opinion that better days lay ahead for Towson.
That proved to be the case in 2012-13 as Towson improved its win total by 17 games, and with the return of forward Jerrelle Benimon the Tigers were the preseason pick to win the CAA. On Sunday afternoon the Tigers won 72-57 at The College of Charleston, with Benimon and Mike Burwell leading the way. Benimon, preseason pick to win CAA Player of the Year, led the way with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three assists with Burwell adding 18 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Benimon and Burwell are both Big East transfers (Benimon from Georgetown, and Burwell played at USF when they were still a member), and along with holdover Marcus Damas have been key figures for Towson as the Tigers worked to make the transition from doormat to contender.
Just as important as the offensive production on Sunday was Towson’s performance defensively, as the Cougars shot just 33% with Nori Johnson (scoreless) and Anthony Stitt combining to score just six points on 2-for-15 shooting. Willis Hall (20 points) and Adjehi Baru (15 and nine rebounds) were productive for Doug Wojcik’s team but their teammates shot a combined 6-for-42 from the field.
With the win Towson moved to 3-0 in CAA play, keeping them tied in the loss column with 4-0 Delaware. While a five-game win streak may not seem like much, this is the first such streak for the Tigers since the 2000-01 season. And given where Towson was just under three years ago, the streak is another step forward for Pat Skerry’s program.
For the first time in more than four decades, the Towson Tigers have started the season 3-0.
The Tigers got 32 points and 10 boards from Jerrelle Benimon and as a team corralled 22 offensive rebounds to knock off Temple 75-69. That comes on the heels of wins over Navy and Morgan State, and while that, in and of itself, isn’t really all that impressive, think about it like this: a couple of seasons ago, we were wondering whether or not the Tigers would actually win a game.
During the whole season.
And now they are heading into a week where they will be going on trips to Villanova and Kansas with the kind of talent on their roster that makes it far from inconceivable that they can pull off an upset.
Now, to be fair, they are going to need to get more production from their perimeter. Towson beat up a Temple team that has a young and small front line. That won’t happen against bigger programs.
But this win came with Jerome Hairston, a former top 100 recruit, doing almost nothing after picking up a technical foul in the first half and Four McGlynn taking an 0-fer. What happens on the nights when both of those guys get it going?
Towson entered the season as the CAA favorite with the reigning CAA Player of the Year on their roster. But Benimon got better, and his supporting cast did as well.
Until the Tigers pull off a win against the Wildcats or the Jayhawks, it’s best to keep our expectations somewhat in check.
But let it be known now: this is a team you’ll want to keep an eye on throughout the year.