Having set the stage for a successful start to the 2013-14 season by beating Navy 72-45 in the grand opening of SECU Arena last Friday night, the Towson basketball team followed up on that Tuesday night with a 95-75 thrashing of Morgan State at home. It’s the first time since February 1992 that the Tigers have had back to back wins of 20 points or more.
Navy, while not the typical easy pushover most teams schedule for an opening home game was honestly a team that the Tigers were expected to beat rather easily, and they did. Morgan presented a different challenge. A very strong team that returned some veteran players, and another Baltimore area team that has gotten the better of Towson in recent years. While coaches preach to their teams to never take those games lightly, it’s sometimes tough to get the players to buy in.
However, having lost a couple of games just like that early last season, it’s safe to say that this year’s Tigers team learned from the past. Having four seniors in the starting lineup helps the Tigers stay focused on so called ‘trap games.’ Head Coach Pat Skerry echoed those thoughts recently saying, “I’m relying on the veterans on this team to take leadership on and off the court, more this year than in the past.”
With a renowned team like Temple coming in later this week, Senior Jerrelle Benimon was asked if it was hard for the Tigers to not look past Morgan St. “Coach always emphasizes take one game at a time. So we took this game and then move on to tomorrow to game plan for Temple.”
While not a senior, sophomore point guard Jerome Hairston remembers the trouble the Tigers had against cross-town teams last year, “We were 0-3 against teams from Baltimore last year. We’ve got to fix that this year,” he said referring to early season losses to Loyola, UMBC and Coppin State.
The Tigers played well in just about all phases of the game in the win over Navy. Defense and rebounding are two staples of a Skerry coached team, and the Tigers held the Midshipmen to .311 percent from the field, while hitting on .47% of its on shots, and out rebounded Navy 46-33. The Tigers were led by Pre Season CAA Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon with 17 boards, while fellow senior Rafiel Guthrie led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points.
While he had an off night scoring wise against Navy with just five points. Benimon bounced back with 21 against the Bears to go along with his 14 rebounds. Skerry said he was happy to see the quick start by Benimon, “I was really proud of the fact that Benimon and Hairston came out locked in.”
The Tigers appear to be a deeper team this year. “We may go 10 deep this year,” said Skerry before the season started. We are definitely deeper than we were last year.” That was evidenced by the eight players who played at least 16 minutes in the opener, and nine players seeing double digit minutes against Morgan St.
While the season is certainly in its infancy, an early look at some of the numbers the Tigers have accumulated after just the first two games indicate the firepower of this team. First and foremost is the scoring potential, Towson is averaging 83.5 points a game and giving up only 72.0. Currently four Tigers are averaging in double figures, Guthrie leads the team with 18.0, followed by senior Marcus Damas and Benimon at 13.5 and senior guard Mike Burwell putting up 11.0 points per game.
Contributing to that lofty scoring average is the phenomenal shooting of the thus far. The Tigers are shooting .520 from the field, .486 from beyond the three-point line, and a very solid .710 from the free-throw line. Three point shooting has been an early strength of the Tigers, led by Four McGlynn hitting on .545 of his long range shots, despite going 1-4 against the Bears. Damas has been red hot as well shooting .500 on 4 of 8 attempts in the early going. Damas injured his shoulder during the summer and couldn’t play in any games, so he just worked on his shooting. This was mentioned by Hairston, “I just want to say how hard Marcus worked on shooting this summer. He was frustrated to not be able to play (in Towson’s summer exhibition tour of Canada) so he just put up shot after shot and it shows.”
Asked his thoughts on why the team is shooting so much better this year than last year’s team, Damas explained, “It’s just a matter of practice and us really working on and knowing our spacing. We have a lot of guys that can shoot well, but it just comes from practice and getting good looks.”
The three home games to start the season is another huge benefit to the Tigers. After starting last season with its first 10 games on the road, the home atmosphere has been welcome. That atmosphere includes the new state of the art SECU Arena in which the Tigers are feeling right at home. A huge factor in these first two home games has been the Towson student section. In years past the Tigers struggled to get much of a student turnout at all, and the ones that did come often left after halftime.
The first two games have produced a student section that fills the entire lower 2 sections that are devoted to students and spills into the upper bowl of the arena. Despite both games being a blowout, the students have stayed until the very end of each game. The two games have produced an average attendance of 3,300 and the Temple games should certainly attract at least that size of crowd if not more.
Towson will now face two traditional powers from the Philadelphia area, begging with Temple which visits SECU Arena on Thursday. Three days later the Tigers will play their first road game of the year when they take the trip up I-95 to face Villanova. Towson is 0-4 all-time against the Wildcats, with the last loss coming in 2008.