TU’s season comes to an end in CIT quarterfinals
Seniors Jerrelle Benimon, Mike Burwell, Marcus Damas and Rafriel Guthrie had won 43 games over the past two seasons heading into Thursday night’s CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament quarterfinal matchup at Murray State.
Another win would send Towson into the semifinals, but winning at Murray State would not come easy, as the Racers boasted a 14-1 record at home this season heading into the game.
And while the Tigers held a lead at halftime, the Racers continued their dominant home performance in the second half, pulling away late to end Towson’s season with an 85-73 loss.
“We knew they were very good coming in,” Head Coach Pat Skerry said. “For about 30-31 minutes, it was [a war], and then the bottom kind of fell off the last eight minutes. We turned it over and they got it going from three, which they have the ability to do. Just one or two times, it got away from us.”
“We were in the game with the fourth longest home-winning streak in the country,” Skerry continued. “They’re a potent home team. It’s hard to beat postseason teams on the road.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Tigers, who finished the season with a school record 25 wins in Division-I (25-11 overall).
Benimon and Burwell came out of the gates firing, as the two combined for 29 points (Burwell with 15, Benimon with 14) as the Tigers shot 47 percent from the field in the first half.
Towson held Murray State to just 25 percent (3-of-12) from beyond the arc, and went into the intermission with a 39-36 lead.
“We played well,” Skerry said of the first half. “We guarded and beat them up on the glass.”
The second half was much different, however.
Murray State locked down Benimon and Burwell, holding the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year to just four points while Burwell managed only five.
“They just had good hands and quickness,” Skerry said of Murray State’s defense. “We have to do a better job of ball movement, meeting passes and working for catches. Sometimes, I think you get caught up in the atmosphere a little bit. We did a couple of uncharacteristic things.”
And while the Racers locked in on defense, they also became red-hot from three-point range. Murray State cashed in on 7-of-11 three-pointers, including three from freshman Cameron Payne. The guard scored 13 points in the half and finished the game with 24 points.
“He’s a big-time player,” Skerry said of Payne. “He’s a big, left-handed point guard that has long arms and good vision. He handles it as a deep-range shooter. Very, very good player.”
The turning point of the game came with 9:46 left and the score tied at 57. The Racers went on a 13-4 run that including five consecutive made field goals to break away from the Tigers.
And while Towson tried to battle back, crucial turnovers late led to easy fast-break buckets for Murray State.
For the game, Towson committed 14 turnovers that led to 16 points for Murray state.
“This is one of the few times where you look at a game and our turnovers hurt us. It hadn’t happened in quite some time,” Skerry said.
Thursday night’s game was the final time that Benimon, Burwell, Damas and Guthrie would take the court for Towson.
The quartet helped bring the Tigers from a 1-31 season to a 25-11 record and a postseason berth, Towson’s first in over 20 years.
“It’s just been an honor and a pleasure to coach them,” Skerry said. “They’ve changed our culture. They’re warriors and they’re winners. We’ll be forever grateful to them for taking that chance in coming here with us to get this thing going.”