In the Colonial Athletic Association, there is no better example of the haves and have-nots than George Mason and Towson. Since Towson joined the league in 2001, George Mason is the only CAA team it has yet to defeat.
With 19 straight losses and only one game decided by fewer than nine points, it’s a dubious history. But Wednesday night, when revitalized Towson (10-10, 5-2) plays host to George Mason (11-7, 4-2), the Tigers have perhaps their best chance to rearrange the pecking order.
Yes, Virginia, just a year after setting an NCAA Division I record for consecutive losses (41), Towson has a serious basketball team.
The rise of the Tigers has been fueled by a remarkable overhaul of the roster by second-year coach Pat Skerry, who starts Big East transfers Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown), Mike Burwell (South Florida), and Bilal Dixon (Providence) along with junior holdover Marcus Damas, and guard Jerome Hairston, the prize recruit of a freshman class that was rated the best in the CAA.
“We kind of put a potpourri together,” Skerry said on Tuesday. “Good players make you look like you’ve got a clue on the sidelines.”
Beating perennial CAA power George Mason would be a clear signal that Towson has arrived, but Skerry isn’t thrilled with what his team has accomplished. He expects more. In yielding 27 points to Georgia State star R.J. Hunter and losing Monday night at home, Towson lost ground on league-leading Northeastern (11-7, 6-0).
“When we don’t defend and rebound, we’re just not very good,” Skerry said. “We don’t know quite how to handle prosperity yet.”
One player Skerry has been able to count on is Benimon (17.0 ppg, 11.7 rpg), the 6-8 junior from Fauquier High, has registered double-doubles in the last five games, and has 14 on the year to lead the nation. With his size (6-8, 245), range, and agility, the CAA player of the year candidate reminds George Mason coach Paul Hewitt of former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, now playing for the Boston Celtics.
“He’s got that wide body. He’s good off the bounce,” Hewitt said. “He finishes well and is a very good rebounder obviously.”
George Mason at Towson
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Towson Center Arena, Towson, Md.