Seniors guide Tigers to victory over JMU
Entering Tuesday night’s contest at SECU Arena, James Madison and Towson were two teams on different ends of the spectrum in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Tigers – led by four seniors – were second in the conference while the Dukes – who have only two players that are not underclassmen – sat toward the bottom of the standings.
And in Tuesday night’s game, all four seniors for Towson showed their experience, guiding the Tigers to an 80-71 win over the Dukes.
“It’s a very young team. We’re not the strongest team; we’re not anywhere near to a team that I want to coach in terms of our coaching abilities. It has the least ability to shoot the ball out of any team I’ve been around in 15 years,” James Madison Head Coach Matt Brady said. “So while we’re young, we’re also not as skillful as the teams I’d like to have. I do think in time, we’ll become a significantly more skillful team.”
All four seniors scored in double figures for Towson (15-8, 6-2 CAA).
Guard Rafriel Guthrie scored a team-high 17 points, while forward Jerrelle Benimon recorded his nation-leading 15th double-double of the season with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Guard Mike Burwell contributed 14 points, five rebounds and three assists, and forward Marcus Damas scored 10 points and recorded seven rebounds.
“I think it’s a pretty complete team that [Head Coach] Pat [Skerry] has,” Brady said. “They have some big, strong fifth-year seniors that we had a hard time dealing with.”
As a unit, the Tigers scored 49.1 percent (26-of-53) from the field and shot 47.4 percent (9-of-19) from the field. Towson also shot 30 attempts from the free throw line, while only making 19, compared to the 19 total James Madison (8-15, 3-6 CAA) attempted.
“We’ve got good shooters and [Guthrie] is a good example. He’s living at the foul line,” Skerry said. “Whether it’s man or zone [defense], we’ve got to drive to the rim. And we need to get our threes off inside-out, which I thought for the most part we did a good job of that.”
Defensively, Towson outrebounded James Madison 38-33 while holding the Dukes to 43.1 percent (28-of-65) from the field and 26.7 percent (4-of-15) from beyond the arc.
“We talked last night at our walkthrough, we’re top-30 in the country in field goal defense, rebound margin, blocked shots and free throw attempts. That’s pretty good,” Skerry said. “That also means that’s our identity so we’ve got to play to those strengths.”
Sophomore guard Andre Nation led James Madison with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. 14 of his points came in the second half, a period in which the Dukes outscored the Tigers 48-42.
“[Nation] is a pretty good basketball IQ guy. He’s a competitive basketball player, and he’s got a ways to go in terms of skill development,” Brady said. “He needs to buy in 100 percent and then I think he can be one of the best players in [the CAA].”
Nation’s classmates, guards Ron Curry and Charles Cooke, also scored in double-figures for the Dukes. Curry finished with 13 points while Cooke had 10 points and seven rebounds.
“They have a young team, but they have some people that played really good minutes last year for them,” Benimon said. “I think they’re going to be a good team in the future.”
The turning point in the game came midway through the first half.
Up just one at 24-23 with just under five minutes to play in the opening frame, sophomore forward Timajh Parker-Rivera scored consecutive baskets to start a 14-2 run. During that run, Benimon scored five points and redshirt freshman guard Marquis Marshall hit a three for his first points of the game. Another Parker-Rivera layup sealed the run and gave the Tigers a 38-25 lead at the intermission.
“I thought the tail of the game was the last eight minutes of the first half where they just wore us out,” Brady said. “They wore us out on the glass; they wore us out driving the ball … and then Jerrelle did a really good job not catching the ball in the low-post, but finding teammates.”
While Marshall only played eight minutes, he took advantage of his time on the court. He was 2-for-2 from the field and finished with five points and one rebound. In fact, after his three during the 14-2 run, Guthrie, who was supposed to be subbed in for Marshall at the next break, went back to the bench to let his teammate get more minutes.
“He’s been patient waiting behind us, so it’s good to see him do good because he’s been kind of down,” Guthrie said. “To get that three was a confidence that’s good for the team.”
Towson will now shift its focus to the College of Charleston, who it hosts before finishing the season with five out of the final seven games on the road.
The Tigers defeated the Cougars on Jan. 19 on the road 72-57, the final game of a five-game winning streak at the time.
The two teams will meet again Saturday in SECU Arena, a game that can be seen on Comcast SportsNet. Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m. and the Tigers will be hosting their “Pink Day” in support of Breast Cancer Awareness.