TU splits first games of tourney
Towson split its first two games in the 2012 Comfort Suite Invitational, defeating Radford University Friday night 75-67 and losing in overtime to Eastern Kentucky 71-69 Saturday evening.
On Saturday, with the game tied at 69 after junior forward Marcus Damas hit a baseline jumper with only 13 seconds remaining in regulation, the Tigers (1-2) fouled Eastern Kentucky’s (3-0) Deverin Muff with 1.4 seconds remaining in overtime. Muff hit both free throws to lift the Colonels to their first 3-0 start since the 2004-05 season.
“[Muff] took a little jump hook and the referee said there was contact on the play,” Head Coach Pat Skerry said. “It’s a tough play to end on a call like that. It’s not like it was an overpowering move to the basket.”
The Tigers, who trailed by as much as 10 in the second half, used a 16-5 run to get back in the game and take a 54-53 lead with 2:46 remaining.
Down 58-56 with 23 seconds remaining in regulation, junior guard Mike Burwell attempted a three-point shot and was fouled on the play. Burwell hit two of the three free throws and sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, freshman point guard Jerome Hairston scored five consecutive points to give the Tigers a 67-65 lead with just over a minute remaining. The Colonels would then score four straight points and ultimately win the game.
Junior forward Rafriel Guthrie led the Tigers with 16 points on 5-8 shooting.
“We’ve played [Guthrie] more the last two games, he’s earned that,” Skerry said. “He brings energy, toughness and defense. Last night he did a good job of driving the ball and making good plays and finishing. He’s going to be a big factor for us.”
Junior forward Jerrelle Benimon also recorded his first “double-double” of his career in the loss. Benimon scored 12 points and recorded a game-high 16 rebounds.
The loss comes a day after Towson got its first win of the season.
Friday night, Benimon and Damas combined for 40 of the Tigers’ 75 points. Damas scored 21 points, including 16 in the first half, and Benimon scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half.
“We have high expectations for [Benimon],” Skerry said. “We think he can be as good as anybody in the conference. He has to take care of the ball better. He asserts himself on the glass and it’s tough to stop him.”
Damas hit back-to-back threes in the first half, which sparked a 16-2 run that gave Towson a 33-24 halftime advantage.
The Tigers would lead by as much as 19 points during the second half and never surrendered the lead.
The win is Towson’s first non-conference win since the 2010-11 season against Coppin State. Last season, the Tigers did not get their first victory until Jan. 28 against UNC-Wilmington.
“There’s only two or three guys that are here that played in games [last year],” Skerry said. “All these other guys have much different expectations. You can’t really compare it. This is totally different.”
In both games, the Tigers committed 17 turnovers.
“We’re playing a little faster than we need to,” he said. “We have to be stronger with the ball, we have to make the extra pass. That and free throw shooting has surprised me. We have to be more committed to making easier pass plays.”
Benimon and graduate forward Bilal Dixon have helped give the Tigers an edge in rebounding.
Towson out-rebounded Radford 45-27 and out-rebounded Eastern Kentucky 43-30.
“It’s an emphasis,” Skerry said. “We’re plus 10 and that has to continue. We have to pound the backboards. A lot of the time that’s our best offense, second and third shots.”
Towson finishes the tournament with games against Kennesaw State Sunday and Cincinnati Christian on Monday at 2 p.m.