Benimon, Damas Help Break @Towson_MBB Streak
Courtesy: Mat Schlissel, TowsonTigers.com  
Release: 02/27/2013
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The year was 1992 and the date was January 6. Towson (State) had just defeated George Mason in basketball, 78-71, at the Towson Center.
 
Towson didn't meet up with the Patriots again until the Tigers joined the CAA in 2001-02 and proceeded to lose 20 straight games to George Mason. That streak ended on February 26, 2013 when the Tigers defeated George Mason in overtime, 85-81, at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.
 
Juniors Jerrelle Benimon and Marcus Damas combined for 54 points to lead the Tigers to their 17th victory of the season. Towson have now won the most games in a season since they posted 21 in the 1993-94 season.
 
This victory should have come as no surprise despite the fact that the Tigers lost their first game to George Mason at home, 77-67, on Jan. 23. The Tigers have been very good on the road this year, especially in the Colonial Athletic Association(CAA), where they ended the season 7-2.
 
Benimon was spectacular in the first half, scoring 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting. When the Patriots started paying more attention to the junior from Warrenton, Va. in the second half, Damas stepped up. The small forward, who was one of three players who had to endure a one-win season in 2011-12, played one of his best all-around games of the season, scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds in 44 mintues of action.
 
"I believe he's an all-conference player," said Towson head coach Pat Skerry of Damas after the game on the Towson Sports Network. "He did a great job on [Sherrod] Wright."
 
Wright, who came in averaging 16.3 points per game, scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting. George Mason shot 39.7 percent from the field, including 1-of-7 in overtime.
 
But like many Towson games this year, this was far from easy. This was a game Towson controlled most of the way and led 46-36 at the half. The Tigers also held the lead the entire second half except for the 11:24 mark when it was tied 53-53.
 
The Tigers had a 74-66 lead with 1:38 left on a jumper from freshman Jerome Hairston. However, the lead started to dwindle as Jonathan Arledge cut the lead to five on a 3-point play. After Hairston made two more foul shots, Patrick Holloway knocked down a three for GMU with 50 seconds left.
 
Then Holloway fouled Hairston, who missed two free throws with 44 seconds left, but grad student Bilal Dixon grabbed the rebound and was fouled hard by Erik Copes. Dixon made one of two foul shots and that was followed by another 3-pointer by Holloway. That shot cut the lead to two. The Patriots forced a turnover and sophomore Kris Walden was forced to foul Anali Okoloji, who made one of two foul shots.
 
With 19 seconds left, Damas was fouled and made both foul shots to put the Tigers up by three.
 
Holloway took another three for the tie, but the long rebound went to Arledge, who passed to Okoloji, who drained the 3-pointer with one second left to force overtime.
 
Towson could have folded up the tent in overtime. They had led the entire way only to let it slip away in the last minute. Yet this team is as mentally strong as they are talented.
 
When George Mason took the lead in overtime, 81-79, it was the first time the Patriots were ahead since 13-11 with 15:52 left in the first half. But Benimon came back with a jumper to tie the game with 1:56 left.
 
With 1:07 left, Damas missed a 3-pointer rebounded by Rafriel Guthrie. With 39 seconds left, Benimon missed a 3-pointer before Dixon scored off the rebound to give the Tigers an 83-81 lead. After a miss by Copes, Damas was fouled with seven seconds left and made both free throws to ice the game.
 
What a remarkable season for "team turnaround." There's one more game left and as Skerry mentioned on TSN, the George Mason game was the Tigers' semifinal game, and Hofstra on Saturday at 4 p.m. will be their championship game. Closing out the Towson Center with a win against one of its oldest rival would be an appropriate ending to a season, a building and a program that has turned the corner.

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