The 2012-13 basketball season only opened a nine days ago, but for Towson University its only game this year seems much longer ago than that. Towson opened the season last Friday with a 75-58 loss at the College of Charleston. They had the unusual circumstance of playing an exhibition game this past Monday night, after the regular season started. This weekend, the Tigers will be in Richmond, KY participating in the Comfort Suites Invitational, hosted by Eastern Kentucky University.
Coach Pat Skerry scheduled the exhibition to break up the string of 10 straight road games to open the season. While the game does not count in any standings or stats, it did give the players a chance to suit up, play in front of a home crowd, and work on things that they needed to. The result was an unimpressive 72-64 victory over Goldbey-Beacom College of Wilmington Delaware.
The fact it was an exhibition and against a smaller school was not lost on the Bilal Dixon a graduate transfer student from Providence, “Honestly, we didn’t take them too seriously. We knew they were a D2 team, but they came out and punched us in our face “said Dixon in reference to letting Goldbey-Beacom come back from a 21 point first half deficit.
It may prove to be a valuable lesson to this Tiger team that is still trying to figure out everyone’s role. With four games in the next four days against teams they are not familiar with, Towson will have to hope they start to mesh and play well together very quickly. They will be facing Radford, Kennesaw State, and Cincinnati Christian College in addition to Eastern Kentucky.
With the exception of Eastern Kentucky, this weekend’s opponents all had losing records last year, Friday’s opponent Radford was 6-26, Kennesaw State 3-28 and Cincinnati Christian went 11-17 in the NAIA division. If the Tigers were looking at those records with hunger in their eyes, they most certainly will not be after the escape against Goldbey-Beacom. Dixon commented on this, “We learned our lesson, we can’t take anyone lightly. We can’t just look at the name on the front of the jersey and go easy on them.”
Radford the opening night’s opponent will be an interesting match-up and not to put a lot of stock in one game out of 31, it will most likely reveal a lot about the makeup of this year’s team. The Highlanders are led by Coach Mike Jones, who like Skerry is in his second year at the school. He inherited a team last year that was in transition and had many new faces. They are led by two sophomore guards who made the Big South All-Freshman team. R.J.Price is averaging 16 points after two games and fellow sophomore Javonte Green is averaging a double/double with 13 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
Radford has played two games, losing to Wake Forest 79-67 in the season opener for both teams, and coming back to beat Cincinnati Christian 76-71 in overtime on Monday night.
Another scheduling quirk is the fact that Cincinnati Christian has already played Eastern Kentucky—an 89-56 loss—and the previously mentioned loss to Radford. Cincinnati Christian will actually play two other games over the weekend, that aren’t related to the Comfort Suites Classic, before returning to Richmond on Monday to face Towson. This very well may be in fact one of the first tournaments that you will need a GPS to keep track of where all the teams are.
Towson will face Eastern Kentucky on Saturday and Kennesaw State on Sunday. The players are definitely looking forward to the experience, “It takes us back to our AAU days, where you play games every day, and don’t have to worry about practice” said Junior transfer Mike Burwell, who will be counted on heavily this year to provide an outside scoring threat.
However, before any of those games, the important opener against Radford awaits. Coach Skerry is definitely concerned about the team showing a better effort than they have so far. “Radford is going to be good, they’re deep and they’re aggressive. Coach Jones prepares them very well. He has coached under some really good coaches, in John Bielien—West Virginia—and Shaka Smart—at VCU the year they made it to the final four.
One of the keys to Towson not only this weekend but also this year will be the play of freshman point guard Jerome Hariston. Skerry is really pleased with what he has seen so far, “I’ve got a guy that can make some winning plays and that’s a gift” Skerry said shortly after the Goldbey-Beacom game. “He’s really good if we get him the ball out in the open floor, he made some really big strides tonight in leading a team,” Skerry continued.
Towson has given significant playing time to nine players in the three games so far, this is a trend that will continue and Skerry see’s as helpful, “That’s one of our strengths, we can play nine guys. Our depth can help us this weekend. These guys would play seven games in seven days if they could, so they don’t have to practice,” said Skerry when told the players are looking forward to the four games/four days stretch.
So it will be four games in four days and a lot of questions may be answered about this year’s squad. After the four games in Kentucky, the Tigers will be back in Baltimore for its next two games, although they are road games at Loyola and UMBC. That will give Towson a chance to be on a normal schedule, and sleep in their own beds and attend classes as normal. After that come three quick road games, before the home opener on December 15th against North Dakota State.