Towson downs George Mason in overtime

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Georgetown transfer Benimon scores 31

Last year as he suffered through the most humbling season of his career, winning one game, Towson coach Pat Skerry was so convinced that better days were ahead, he researched the NCAA record for a single-season turnaround.

It wasn't a pie-in-the-sky dream. Tuesday night at George Mason, Skerry's efforts proved prophetic. With Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon scoring a career-high 31 points, Towson came within one victory of achieving Skerry's unlikely goal with an 85-81 win in overtime before 3,956 at Patriot Center.

With a victory Saturday at home in its season finale over lowly Hofstra, Towson (17-13, 12-5) will achieve the largest turnaround in NCAA history.

"We had a couple guys from last year. They worked their hearts out," Skerry said. "We had good players sitting out, and we added good players. So we felt like we had a chance."

Towson is ineligible for the postseason but is thoroughly enjoying its last few games, winning seven of its last eight. With each success, it seems, Towson is breaking down another barrier. In Saturday's win over Drexel, Towson clinched its first winning season since 1995-96. Tuesday's victory was the Tigers' first in 15 tries at Patriot Center as a member of the CAA.

"I'm a little bit bittersweet," Skerry said. "Unfortunately the NCAA and the league has taken away the tournament for us. But they couldn't take away tonight. They couldn't take away last Saturday. They won't take away this coming Saturday."

Providence transfer Bilal Dixon (seven points, 10 rebounds) scored the go-ahead basket on a put-back with 37 seconds left, and junior Marcus Damas (23 points, nine rebounds) made two free throws with seven seconds left to secure the victory. No player is enjoying this year's success more than Damas, a 6-foot-7 forward and the top scorer from last year's 1-31 team.

"He's worked incredibly hard on his game," Skerry said. "He's a warrior. He's enjoying it. It's hard to express. I've been around coaching for a while. He's worked as hard as anyone I've been around."

The night belonged to Benimon, a 6-8 junior, who hit 10 of 14 shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, and added seven rebounds and four assists. It was a stunning turnaround from his performance in Towson's loss to George Mason a month ago when he went 5-of-15.

If anything, Towson has shown resilience. It was on display Tuesday when George Mason (17-12, 10-7) rallied from a seven-point deficit to tie in the final 50 seconds. Freshman Patrick Holloway made two 3-pointers and sophomore Anali Okoloji capped the rally with a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds to go, sending the game to overtime.

The Patriots had the crowd and the pedigree on their side and took the lead in overtime on a jumper by Corey Edwards (10 points, three assists). But after that, Towson, the best rebounding and field goal percentage defense in the conference, held George Mason scoreless the rest of the way.

"You're gonna take punches on the road against good teams in tough environments," Skerry said. "I just thought Marcus Damas took over in the huddle about, 'Turn the page. Next play.' He jumped guys pretty good. We play off emotion, energy. I like that."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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