Towson scratches out upset victory
With 42 seconds remaining in a 61-61 game against Vermont Wednesday, freshman point guard Jerome Hairston stole the ball from Sandro Carissimo and took it down the court before passing the ball to junior forward Marcus Damas. Damas sank a layup to give the Tigers a 63-61 lead.
Several made free throws later, Towson (4-4) walked out of the Patrick Gymnasium with a 68-64 victory against the University of Vermont (4-3).
The Tigers ended their two game losing streak Wednesday and handed the Catamounts their second consecutive loss of the season.
“I told our guys that we’re going to see nine game like this in the [Colonial Athletic Association], this type of talented team, so this is big for us,” Head Coach Pat Skerry said.
Junior forward Jerrelle Benimon led Towson in its upset victory against Vermont, who made the NCAA Tournament last season and made it past the first round. Benimon scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on his way to his fourth “double-double” of the season. He also added four steals and three assists.
“[Benimon] was an absolute beast out there tonight,” Skerry said. “He attacked. He didn’t settle for shots. He played really hard on both ends of the floor and when he does that I think he can be a really special player.”
The Tigers got off to a fast start and grabbed a 30-19 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the first half after a layup by junior guard Rafriel Guthrie.
The Catamounts would fight back but go into the half down 38-33.
Led by Luke Apfeld, Vermont eagerly came out in the second half. Apfeld scored Vermont’s first seven points of the half to tie the game at 40.
The Catamounts took their first lead since a 2-0 lead in the first half after Brendan Kilpatrick hit a three pointer to give them a 45-44 advantage.
Vermont would hold the lead for the next 10 minutes, thanks in part to Apfeld, who scored seven more points in that span.
With 2:27 remaining in the game, Benimon hit a layup to tie the game at 59.
Down 61-59, the Catamounts secured a rebound after a missed three-pointer from Damas. As Carissimo dribbled the ball down the court, Hairston stole the ball and made the game-tying layup with 54.5 seconds remaining.
Just 12.5 seconds later, the freshman made his presence felt again, giving Towson the final lead of the game and sending the Tigers to victory.
Hairston finished the game with seven points, four steals and four assists.
“There’s no question [Jerome] loves the [big] moment,” Skerry said. “I think we’re all learning that in that moment, he has to make big plays for us. We’re really proud of him.”
A key to the Tigers’ late game rally and victory was the ability to hold Apfeld, who finished the game with 23 points, without any points for the final seven minutes of the game.
“One of the things that really helped us was that we changed our ball screen coverage a little,” Skerry said. “I thought TJ [Timajh Parker-Rivera] did a really good job defensively for us late, as did Marcus Damas.”
This is Damas’s first game back after suffering a concussion against Loyola Monday, Nov. 26.
Towson performed exceptionally well, especially on the offensive end of the floor. The Tigers shot 50 percent from the field for the game and made 13-18 free throws.
Defensively, Towson forced 14 steals and had five blocks. Coming into the game, the Tigers ranked 25th in the nation and atop the CAA in blocks per game with 5.4.
Towson also came into the game with a +9.6 advantage in rebounds per game, which ranked the team 20th nationally. The Tigers finished the game with a 28-22 rebound advantage over the Catamounts.
Towson will have a few days of rest before traveling to Georgetown to face the Hoyas at the Verizon Center Saturday at 12 p.m.
“To get a chance to go play down there against that type of program, it’s a great challenge but a super opportunity for our guys as well,” Skerry said.