During the 2013 calendar year, the Towson University men's basketball team closed out the most successful single-season turnaround in NCAA Division I history, and then opened the 2013-14 season stronger than any Towson team has ever started a campaign.
The preseason favorites to win the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tigers were 10-6 as of Jan. 13 and still in favorable position to contend for the CAA crown. Towson closed its nonconference schedule with an 81-79 win Jan. 4 at Coppin State, and its nine nonconference wins were more than any of its CAA competitors recorded this season, as well as the most the Tigers have had at the Division I level.
The defeat of Coppin State was the team's first road victory of the season. Towson had a 13-game win streak at home -- including the final four home games of the 2012-13 season -- as of Jan. 13.
"I think it's a good thing we played some really tough road games," head coach Pat Skerry said. "I think the teams we played on the road had a 30-2 record. We have to get better playing in these situations, because these are teams that could win our conference at the end of the day. It should have us ready for some tough, tough games in our league."
Senior forward Jerrelle Benimon, the 2012-13 CAA Player of the Year, ranked fourth in the conference as of Jan. 12 with 17.9 points per game during his first 16 games. He led all other conference foes as of Jan. 12 with 11.1 rebounds per game.
Benimon, who led the Tigers in scoring, rebounds and assists as of Jan. 13, was the only player in the CAA to rank in the top five of each of these categories.
"He's a special, special player," Skerry said. "He can take over a game, and sometimes we need him to do that."
One of the highlights of Towson's nonconference schedule was when Benimon recorded his first-career triple double -- and the first in program history -- during a 102-72 win against Central Penn College Dec. 10.
"It felt good," Benimon said. "I thought I could get one. I used to get them in high school every once in a while. But it was nice to get one [in college], finally."
Benimon's ability to take over games has become increasingly necessary, because sophomore point guard Jerome Hairston was suspended in November for conduct detrimental to the team. Senior Mike Burwell, who played point guard for the first time during the 2013 offseason, has taken over the majority of ballhandling responsibilities, while Benimon and Vermont transfer Four McGlynn have picked up the slack offensively.
Skerry said Hairston would not return from his suspension -- neither this season nor future ones.
"He won't be playing with us," Skerry said. "The team that's playing right now is the team that will be playing moving forward."
Skerry and his team have commented that consistency would determine their fate at the end of the season.
"It's ultimately going to determine how good we can be," Skerry said, "because we have enough to be right there at the end of the day -- there's no doubt in my mind -- in our league. It's the little things: playing off two feet, playing with two hands, just all the little stuff. It's not a talent issue; we've got to do the little things for longer stretches."
After the Tigers achieved new heights in 2013, they could put themselves in position to make history once again if they were to capture the CAA crown and the subsequent automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
"There's 351 teams," Skerry said. "Not everybody can win their league. We can. We're able to. Everybody wants to be there in the end. Our focus is just to make ourselves better every day."