The Towson Tigers found themselves down 60-57 to the Northeastern Huskies with 6:44 remaining in the second half at Matthews Arena on Thursday following a Scott Eatherton three-point play. Promptly, Towson strung together a 7-0 run and limited Northeastern to just two field goals over the entire duration of the game by switching to a two-three zone defense. The Tigers pushed ahead and hung on for a 79-70 lead.
Jerrelle Benimon was stifled by Northeastern’s array of zone defenses, only posting 8 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on 3-5 shooting in all 40 minutes of action. With that, it was an overall team effort for Towson, with four players not named Benimon scoring in double figures, including Rafriel Guthrie and Mike Burwell dropping 21 and 19 points, respectively.
Mid-Major Madness caught up with Towson head coach Pat Skerry after the win for the latest edition of the CAA Q+A.
Mid-Major Madness: This is now two-straight games where you’ve played Northeastern and Jerrelle has looked a little uncomfortable facing their zone pressure and he’s had to play more of a facilitator role. What did you try to do to get him involved offensively.?
Pat Skerry: It’s a good point. We ended up moving him at the half into the high post so we could get his hands on the ball more. He’s such a good passer. With their zone, I’ll give them credit. I prefer people to play us zone, to be perfectly honest with you. Bill and his staff do a good job, so we knew they would go zone. We’re heavily reliant on transition and multiple guys driving the ball so we tried to make a couple adjustments at the half. But they’re bigger and longer than people realize. But I thought for Jerrelle, to his credit, didn’t forced a lot of shots and he tried to find guys. That’s what great players do. He’s comfortable doing that although that’s something we don’t really want to live on either.
MMM: Everyone is hyping up the fact that you’ve said you’d play Jerrelle at point guard this season. He doesn’t necessarily play the position for you, but he does handle and bring the ball up the floor a lot. What does that do for your offense?
PS: Well, he’s a willing passer and he’s got tremendous vision. You can’t really teach that. That’s what I’ve talked to a lot of the next level people about him. He’s got to score the ball for us, but he’s very comfortable finding other people. Of course he rebounds, but I think he’s a gifted passer. We just need to get the ball in his hands.
MMM: Rafriel and Mike Burwell have really attacked the rim consistently from the wing as of late. How much does that add to the team?
PS: Guthrie actually leads the conference in free throw attempts per minute. That’s what he does and Burwell’s been playing really well for us. When Burwell plays well, we become really difficult to beat. If you study the games we’ve lost, he hasn’t played well. He’s on a great tear right now, he’s a prideful kid, he’s a worker and he’s a warrior. I’m proud of him.
MMM: He didn’t play so well tonight, but Four McGlynn is one of the top shooters in the conference. How big of an addition has he been?
PS: You just tell him to keep shooting the ball. He’s got to take the next step mentally for us now. He’s done a great job making free throws for us. He’s done a good job taking care of the ball, his defense has improved markedly, he’s just gotta learn when he misses to move on to the next play. His teammates tell him that, I tell him that. He’s getting there.
MMM: Heading into the season, everyone expected you to be where Delaware is now, the class of the conference. What’s it been like to be fighting to get to that number one spot?
PS: Well, there’s still a couple games left and we just have to worry about what we do. We’ve beaten a couple of really good teams, including them, and we also know we’re capable of beating anyone when we stick to the script. It’s going to be a tough, hard-fought conference tournament I’m sure.
MMM: What’s that script?
PS: [Smiles] defend, rebound and play inside-out. That’s us.
MMM: Timajh Parker-Rivera’s really helped that inside-out game as of late.
PS: Yea, I’m proud of him. You hope when you have guys in your program by the time January of their sophomore year comes, they’re ready to take the next step. He’s been a guy that’s been consistently getting close to that double-double mark. He’s good. He’s going to be real good.
MMM: Last year your team unfortunately wasn’t eligible for the tournament, but now it’s in your backyard in Baltimore. What are your expectations for that weekend?
PS: Well, we haven’t talked about it much yet. We’ll focus on this win now. It’s the toughest conference in the country as far as percentage of close games. I know when everyone goes to Baltimore if we don’t play well we’ll get clipped. So we’ll need to play well, but I’ll expect we’ll battle.
MMM: Yea, KenPom.com has the CAA as the most unpredictable conference game in and game out.
PS: And we tell our guys that, the highest percentage of close games. It’s tough.