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TU ready for CAA Tourney

2 March 2014 By Jesse Jones, Sports Editor No Comments
Tigers pouncing on chance to play in postseason
Illustration by Sydney Adamson/ The Towerlight

Illustration by Sydney Adamson/ The Towerlight

Riding a six-game winning streak, Towson and Head Coach Pat Skerry hold the No. 2 seed heading into the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

The Tigers won a program record 22 games this season, a year after setting the NCAA record for biggest season turnaround.

“We’ve had a very good regular season,” Skerry said. “Now, it’s for all the marbles. We know what our goal is. It won’t be easy but we’re playing as well as we have all year.”

Towson was banned from postseason play last year because of low APR scores from the 2010 season, when Skerry was not even running the program.

Up first for the Tigers is a matchup against the No. 7 James Madison Dukes on Saturday. The Dukes are without star player Andre Nation, who has been suspended for the second time this season. Nation led
James Madison with 15.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game.

A win will put Towson into the semifinal matchup against either No. 3 William & Mary or No. 6 College of Charleston on Sunday at 5 p.m.

“Either game is going to be a hard game. We were lucky to beat Madison. We probably should have lost to Charleston at home. We’ll respect whoever we’re going to play. We’re just happy to be in the thing,”
Skerry said.

Should the favorites win their second round games, the Tigers would face the Tribe just a week following a last-second win on Senior Night.

Although it’s tough to beat a team three consecutive times, Towson’s two-game sweep of William & Mary in the regular season could provide extra confidence if the teams face one another in the semifinals.

“Every win I think gives us confidence,” senior guard Mike Burwell said. “We’re going to have the same game-plan when we see them again. Nothing’s going to change.”

While a large number of players don’t have postseason experience, Towson’s most important player was a part of one of the most prized conference tournaments for two straight years.

Senior forward Jerrelle Benimon was a member of a Georgetown team that lost on a buzzer-beater to West Virginia in the Big East Championship game his freshmen year, and a member of the 2010-11 team
that lost to eventual Big East Champion Connecticut in the second round.

“The Big East was fun,” Benimon said. “It’ll be good. It’s just constant playing. I mean it’s back-to-back-to-back. I feel like usually what happens is the more conditioned, ready team prevails.”

Conditioning will play a huge factor for Benimon in the CAA Tournament.

The preseason CAA Player of the Year played all 40 minutes in three of the past four games and has played a team-high 1,113 minutes this season.

“He’s the best mid-major, not big man, but he’s the best mid-major player in America. It’s not even close. He’d be all conference in any conference and we’re glad he’s on our side,” Skerry said of Benimon.
“We’re going to ride him like a rented mule next weekend, rest assured. He’s got to rest up all week.”

Should he have to play every minute of every game, Benimon said he’s up for the challenge.

“There’s no other choice,” he said. “It comes down to next weekend. Once we lose, we’re done. So we’ve got to do it.”

If Towson is to make it to the championship game, it’ll play Monday night at 7 p.m.

The favorites to come out of the other half of the bracket are CAA regular season Champion Delaware and No. 4 Drexel.

Towson split the regular season battle with Delaware, falling on the road 83-76 on Jan. 25 before handing the Blue Hens their first CAA loss of the season on Feb. 17 by a score of 78-63.

Towson won both of its games against Drexel this year.

The Tigers got their second road win of the season on Jan. 14 with an 80-68 win over the Dragons before holding on for a two-point win on Feb. 1 at SECU Arena.

“I think honestly, anyone we play can beat us,” Skerry said. “They’re all hard games. We got to guard and rebound at a high level and make sure we get a good shot. I think we’re built for tournament play. Either
game is going to be a hard game.”

For Burwell, playing in the CAA Tournament will be a much-welcomed opportunity.

“Honestly, last year we still played hard. In our mind we understood we couldn’t make the postseason, but we still wanted to prove we were a team to compete with,” Burwell said.

“And this year now, it’s just exciting to know we can play in the postseason and we have a lot more after that,” he continued.

Saturday’s game against James Madison will tip-off at the Baltimore Arena at 6 p.m. and can be seen on Comcast SportsNet.

The semifinal and championship game will be aired on NBC Sports Network.

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