With the large influx of new talent on the Towson men’s basketball team this year, it was left to speculation as to who would fill what roll. While the sampling is small, just two games into the season, a few trends are starting to show. As expected junior transfer, Jerrelle Benimon is showing a very complete overall game. Benimon leads the team in scoring averaging 21.0 points per game after the first two contests, the most recent a 75-67 win over Radford Friday night in the Comfort Suites Invitational in Richmond Kentucky.
Also as expected Graduate student Bilal Dixon is providing a strong force in the middle, he is a half a point away from averaging a double-double with 9.5 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game in the young season. Dixon’s point average would be a bit higher if not for some missed lay-ins that came on offensive rebounds he has garnered. Dixon played the previous three seasons in the Big East where he often faced larger less mobile centers than he has encountered thus far. It is very likely once Dixon adapts to the smaller quicker matchups, he will adjust and become even a bigger force in the paint.
The one returning player who retained his starting position is junior Marcus Damas. Coach Pat Skerry talked in the pre-season on how Damas’s role would change this year. Last year Damas was the leading scorer of a team that had very few consistent scoring options. He led the team with a 12.5 per game scoring average. Damas’s highlight last year came when he scored 26 points against Drexel and had a season high six three-pointers in the game.
At 6’7” 215 Damas is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Towson’s off-season conditioning program, led by new strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. Damas has added 15 pounds of muscle this year according to Skerry. While Damas will primarily play the three, his size and athletic ability allow him to play anywhere from the one to the four.
Damas was instrumental in the Tigers win last night by scoring 16 points in the first half. That included hitting a pair of three-pointers in a forty-second span late in the first half to help Towson take a nine-point lead into the break.
Benimon took over the scoring load in the second half by going 7-7 from the field on his way to 17-second half points. Damas played more of a supporting role but hit two key free throws in the final thirty seconds to insure the Towson victory.
Skerry has said all through the pre-season that this team has a lot of depth and they will need to use it. Damas’s performance last night showed Towson is capable of scoring from any place on the court.
While the front line has provided the leading scorer in the first two games, the Tigers have also had glimpses of the firepower at the guard position. Freshman transfer Mike Burwell had a rough outing in the opener at Charleston, but scored eight of his ten points in the second half against Radford. Burwell along with sophomore Kris Walden are the Tiger’s best outside threats. Burwell, who possess a silky smooth jump shot, has yet to find his range, but it does not matter to him if he is not getting all the points.
“When we win everyone eats,” said Burwell after the team’s exhibition game against Goldbey-Beacom College. “It doesn’t matter if Jerrelle Benimon or Bilal Dixon or anyone scores 30 points, if we win everyone eats. That’s our saying in the locker room,” concluded Burwell.
The job to keep feeding the team will fall on freshman point-guard Jerome Hairston. Battling some foul trouble Hairston only played 23 minutes Friday night but managed to hit a big three-pointer toward the end of the first half. Hairston has great open court skills and can get the ball to anyone in good scoring position. As the team gets more game time together and discovers it has multiple options, Hairston should see his assist total increase significantly.
Last night’s win was a big one for Towson in more ways than just leveling its record at 1-1. Radford is a very talented team that will be very good this year. They were a good measuring stick for Towson to see where it stands early in the season. A disappointing showing by the Tigers might have started some concern in wondering if all this new talent would be able to work together. However, what it has shown after two games is on any given night, the points and production can come from any number of players.
No doubt, Benimon appears capable and likely to lead the Tigers in scoring this year, but there is plenty of help to stand in on any off nights. In addition, if Burwell’s proclamation is correct, the Tigers may eat very well this year, and Fletcher may have a job on his hands in keeping everyone in condition.