Towson's Benimon back in familiar territory at Verizon

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Ex-Georgetown player facing former team

After playing two seasons for Georgetown teams that won 44 games and reached the NCAA tournament twice, Jerrelle Benimon saw how the other half lives last year at Towson. The Tigers went 1-31, drawing national attention as their losing streak reached an NCAA-record 41 games.

Asked to identify a low point, however, Benimon was stumped.

"It was really weird," Benimon said. "You never felt like, 'This is it. It can't get any worse.' Seriously, the attitudes of the players never seemed to slump."

Up next
Towson at Georgetown
When » Saturday, noon
Where » Verizon Center
TV » MASN

They must have known better days were ahead -- like this year when Benimon became eligible. With the 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward averaging 16.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, both team highs, Towson (4-4) is no longer a punch line.

On Saturday, when Benimon returns to the District for a game against No. 15 Georgetown (6-1), it will be as a go-to low-post player on a vastly improved team that includes two other transfers from Big East schools: guard Mike Burwell (South Florida) and center Bilal Dixon (Providence).

"It should be a lot of fun," said Benimon, a graduate of Fauquier High. "I grew up watching Georgetown. All my friends know Georgetown. They're excited about it."

At Georgetown, Benimon was a versatile frontcourt rotation player but nothing more, averaging 1.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game. Now he gets, in his words, "ample touches," like on Wednesday in a 69-64 victory at Vermont, where he hit 11 of 15 shots on his way to a career-high 29 points.

With experience as an assistant at Pittsburgh (2010-11) and Providence (2008-10), Towson second-year coach Pat Skerry was familiar with Benimon, one of the first players he wooed after taking the job in the spring of 2011.

"I knew he was a big, physical, talented, aggressive kid," Skerry said. "We thought he'd be a major impact guy."

After struggling to get off the bench in two seasons at South Florida, Burwell has hit 14 3-pointers and is averaging 9.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 28 minutes.

"I needed a new start," Burwell said. "Coach Skerry has some guys overseas and in the league making money. I thought it would be a great opportunity to be coached by somebody who's coached some of those players and hopefully put me in the same spot."

At Providence, Dixon had seen his playing time decrease from 25 minutes per game as a freshman to 16 as a junior. So after graduating in the spring with a year of immediate eligibility remaining, Dixon opted for Towson and is averaging 7.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Dixon's presence has allowed Benimon to roam the baseline and expand his game. He is averaging 2.1 assists as Towson has built its halfcourt offense around his skills. The junior appreciates having a fellow former Big East player underneath to share the dirty work.

"Bilal's from the Big East," Benimon said. "He knows you have to guard people. The Big East is all about the defensive end."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner