TOWSON MEN’S BASKETBALL SET TO OPEN 2012-13 SEASON WITH HOME EXHIBITION THURSDAY
The Tigers Will Face Bloomsburg University at 7 p.m. Inside the Towson Center Arena – Admission is Free
TOWSON, Md. – The Towson men’s basketball team is set to open its 2012-13 season on Thursday as the Tigers host Bloomsburg University in an exhibition game inside the Towson Center Arena.
This will be the first of two exhibition games for the Tigers, who also host Goldey-Beacom College on November 12.
Tip off for both exhibitions is set for 7 p.m. and admission is free.
2012-13 SEASON OUTLOOK
Head coach Pat Skerry enters his second season at the helm of the Tiger men’s basketball program with a great deal of optimism surrounding the future of his team. Skerry used his first year at Towson to establish a new culture around the program. While the record on the basketball court last year didn’t show it, the Tigers were significantly better both defensively and in rebounding – two elements that Skerry emphasizes the most with his team.
The majority of the 2012-13 Towson roster is made up of newcomers that will provide a significant upgrade in talent. The Tigers return only three lettermen, but two were starters and led the 2011-12 team in numerous categories.
Junior forward Marcus Damas ranked among the top 20 in the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring (12.5 ppg) and rebounding (5.3 rpg) a year ago, while sophomore guard Kris Walden contributed 6.6 points per game and led the squad in assists (3.2 apg) and steals (1.3 spg).
Three Division I transfers are expected to have an immediate impact in the frontcourt. Jerrelle Benimon, a 6-8 junior from Georgetown, will provide scoring and rebounding at power forward. Mike Burwell, a 6-5 junior from the University of South Florida, is a strong shooter from the wing with a wealth of experience. At center is 6-9 Bilal Dixon, who made 68 starts over three seasons at Providence College. Freshmen Jerome Hairston, Barrington Alston and Timajh Parker-Rivera and junior Rafriel Guthrie will also see significant action.
Depth was a major issue in the Tiger backcourt a year ago. Well, that won’t be the case this season. Towson returns a pair of starters in Walden and Damas, while Burwell becomes eligible after his sit-out season. Hairston and Guthrie will also see significant action in the backcourt.
“We have five perimeter guys for three spots and that will bring about some competition in practice,” said Skerry. “It’s my opinion that guys get better when they get pushed and that certainly will be the case with our guards this year.”
Burwell is the most experienced of the group as he saw action in 50 games while at South Florida. Walden and Damas ranked first and second in minutes per game last year for the Tigers, so they also know what their head coach expects.
“Mike is probably our most versatile guy,” said Skerry. “He had a good offseason for us and we’re expecting real big things. We need Mike to be a guy that can do it all. He has to make shots, take care of the ball, rebound better, defend consistently and also be a leader.”
Damas is Towson’s leading returner in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. After an offseason in which he’s improved his body and conditioning, the coaching staff is expecting a breakout year from the junior.
“He will obviously play a lot and he’s improved a lot,” said Skerry. “His strength and shot have both gotten better. He can score the ball for us, but we need him to be a consistent defender and a junkyard dog type of guy too.”
Walden, who played nearly every minute last season at the point guard position, will now split time between the two guard spots. The sophomore led all CAA freshmen in minutes played and assists per game during his rookie season.
“We didn’t give Kris a lot of help last year, but he proved he can play at this level and he can become a good shooter,” said Skerry. “We’re happy because he’s also improved over the summer. Kris’ main focus will be limiting turnovers and defending.”
Hairston and Guthrie provide a pair of fresh faces in the Tiger backcourt. Hairston comes to Towson rated as the No. 114 overall prospect in the country according to Rivals.com. His playmaking abilities should allow him to see playing time early and often. Guthrie is a physical wing player who fits the Skerry mold of a player that can defend and has a motor that never stops. Guthrie comes to Towson from a winning program at the College of Southern Idaho and his versatility could allow him to see significant minutes for the Tigers this season.
“Jerome is very gifted with good size, athleticism and he’s a superb passer,” said Skerry. “He’s great in the open court and we sorely need that. He is starting to learn how to run a team at this level.
“Rafriel will give us toughness and experience,” Skerry continued. He’s a lockdown defender that can rebound from the small forward spot and give us even more versatility.”
Size and athleticism won’t be a problem for the Tigers in the frontcourt as Benimon and Dixon lead the way.
Dixon played in 94 games and started 68 for Providence College from 2009-to-2012 before coming to Towson for his final season. Now, in the best shape of his career, Dixon is ready to hold down the center position for the Tigers.
Benimon is described by Skerry as “a guy that can do everything well”. After two seasons at Georgetown, Benimon has improved his game vastly and will be counted on as one of the go-to guys on the team.
“We’re certainly much deeper than we were a year ago in the frontcourt,” said Skerry. “Those guys can score, rebound and give us a measure of physicality. They both have big, athletic bodies. And perhaps most importantly, they give us experience.”
Skerry is also excited about the additions of freshmen Barrington Alston and Timajh Parker-Rivera. Both have been enrolled at Towson and practicing since the summer and have improved vastly through skill work.
“They have a chance to be excellent players here,” said Skerry. “Both are wired the right way. They have motors that never stop and they’re athletic, tough and play really hard.”
Red-shirt sophomore Jamel Flash will also be in the mix to compete for playing time in the frontcourt as he’s improved immensely since the end last season.
“He’s pretty much a different person from last year,” said Skerry. “He’s maybe my favorite guy because he’s worked that hard to improve. We feel that he can really help us this year because he’s worked his tail off to become stronger. He could really surprise some people.”
A year after playing the toughest non-conference schedule in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tigers will once again challenge themselves throughout the year by playing some of the top teams in the region and country.
During the non-conference portion of their 2012-13 schedule, the Tigers will play 13 games, including four contests against teams that qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Towson will face teams from 12 different conferences during this year’s slate of non-league games, including teams from the BIG EAST, Pac-12 and Atlantic-10.
“Our non-conference schedule will once again challenge us from beginning to end,” said Skerry. “We face a number of really good teams from a number of quality conferences. I think the caliber of teams we’ll go up against will prepare our guys for the rigors of CAA play.”
Some of the marquee games on the schedule include contests at Georgetown, Temple and Oregon State. The Tigers will also play in the 2012 Comfort Suites Invitational, a tournament that will match them up against Radford, Eastern Kentucky and Kennesaw State.
Towson will continue to renew local rivalries with games against Loyola, UMBC and Coppin State on the schedule.
The CAA slate of games for the Tigers will once again be extremely challenging as the league has become one of the top basketball conferences in the country. The Tigers will host George Mason, Delaware and defending regular season champion Drexel, while going on the road to take on Old Dominion, Delaware and many more conference heavyweights.
This 2012-13 slate of home games will be the final ones played in the Towson Center as the state-of-the-art Tiger Arena is set to open in the spring of 2013. Towson will host Hofstra on March 2 and that will mark the final game played in the Towson Center.