The Towson University men's basketball team heads into the final month of the 2014 regular season with a team built around a solid defense and one of the most talent-rich offenses in the Colonial Athletic Association, a formula head coach Pat Skerry said could win the CAA crown.
"We try to get our guys to guard, which they do a pretty good job of," Skerry said, "and then you get some good players to score the ball. Players score the ball -- coaches don't score the ball. You give your good players the ball, and we've got a lot of good players. We've got a great player [in Jerrelle Benimon]. You give him the ball, and we trust him to make the right decisions."
A senior forward and the 2012-13 CAA Player of the Year, Benimon continues to frustrate opposing coaches as they try to game-plan against a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward who can score, defend and do everything in between.
"He can affect the game in many different ways," Skerry said. "He's unselfish. He passes. He rebounds."
Benimon was leading the league with 11.5 rebounds per game as of Feb. 11. He ranked fifth in the CAA with 18.5 points per game, fourth with 3.8 assists per game and fourth with 37 blocks through the Tigers' first 25 games.
Towson played one of its toughest games, physically, Feb. 1 against Drexel at SECU Arena. Under coach Bruiser Flint, the Dragons have consistently put out a physical team and contended for the CAA title. After the Tigers beat an injury-riddled Drexel team on the road Jan. 14, 80-68, the Dragons returned to Towson at full strength. Towson emerged victorious with a 75-73 decision against Drexel.
"Drexel is back at full strength," Skerry said after the game. "I just told our guys, I hope we never have to see them again. That was a war. We were fortunate to come out with a win."
Skerry said he respected the way teams such as Drexel had produced perennial contenders.
"I have incredible respect for coach Flint and the way he runs his program," Skerry said. "I think they do it as well as anybody in the league, consistently. ... You have to play pretty close to 40 minutes to beat them."
The makeup of Towson's roster and its abilities to guard, rebound and score in the paint add the Tigers to the list of the CAA's blue-collar contenders.
"We talk about attacking the red zone," Skerry said. "We're a team that needs to drive the ball -- layups, free throws, second and third shots."
The Tigers rank atop the CAA statistically on defense, forcing opponents to shoot a conference-low 39.4 percent from the field as of Feb. 11. Benimon said the Tigers' resurgence as one of the most renowned defensive teams in the conference gave them an edge heading into the last few weeks of the regular season.
"I think we're playing better than we were when we started conference play," Benimon said. "I think we're getting better defensively, and we're hitting more shots than we were. I think we're going to be good in this last stretch of conference [play]."
Flint said he had taken note of Towson's turnaround under Skerry during the last three seasons. After the Tigers completed the regular-season sweep against the Dragons, Flint recognized that for a tough Towson team, adding a talent such as Benimon had helped lead to wins in the CAA.
"Pat's done a great job of building it up," Flint said. "I actually talked to him a lot during that one-win [2011-12] season, told him to keep his head up and don't be discouraged. Keep getting your guys to fight -- that's the most important thing. They played hard for him.
"They didn't win, but they played hard for him. So as long as he got that part of it, next [season] when he got his guys, they turned it around. Now that they got better players, and they play hard, you win some games."
Flint, who was named the 2011-12 CAA Coach of the Year before Skerry received the honor for the 2012-13 season, said the biggest factor going forward for building teams into conference contenders was going to be recruiting and developing talent.
"[If] you go get you a Jerrelle Benimon, you'll get healthy real quick," Flint said. "That's the key to it right there. You got to get some guys; you got to get some dudes. As I say, you get some dudes, you're a really good coach."
Heading into the final month of the regular season, Skerry said he was looking to use the talent of Benimon during his last month wearing a Towson uniform.
"I've said this before -- for people that haven't been out to see this guy, they need to do it," Skerry said of Benimon. "He's a special talent, and he's fun to watch. He does so many things and plays the game the right way. I'm glad Jerrelle is on our side."