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As CAA play begins, Towson men's basketball eyes title game at Baltimore Arena

BasketballCollege SportsColonial Athletic AssociationNorth Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks

Four McGlynn moved into the starting lineup 10 games ago to replace sophomore point guard Jerome Hairston, but the transfer student for the Towson men's basketball team said he left his nerves behind.

"I think I've always been comfortable," said McGlynn, a sophomore shooting guard. "The way that our system is set up, we have a lot of unselfish guys ... Some nights, some score more than others, and vice versa. But there's never any pressure, and it's easy to become comfortable in a system where everybody shares the ball and everybody is as unselfish as our team is."

That attitude has the 9-6 Tigers feeling confident despite some early season drama, as they open play in the Colonial Athletic Association as the preseason favorite to win the conference title.

With the CAA tournament slated to take place at Baltimore Arena in March, the Tigers' mission is to be crowned close to home. That mission begins Saturday against UNC Wilmington (6-11 overall and 0-2 in the conference) at SECU Arena in Towson.

"To me, Saturday is a Super Bowl game," coach Pat Skerry said. "Then after that, you pull out the plug and reset. You have goals, and these guys' goal is to try to win a tough conference and a regular-season championship. But to do that, you've got to focus on that game on that day."

The team's path to the CAA championship hit a pothole with the suspension and recent dismissal of Hairston. A starter as a freshman, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Hairston averaged 9.9 points, led the team in steals (35), ranked second in assists (77) and three-pointers (38) and was named to the CAA All-Rookie team.

Hairston averaged five points and 1.8 assists in five starts this season before being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and Skerry confirmed on Tuesday that the point guard was no longer a member of the program.

"At this point, it's so long ago and to me, it's really a non-story," Skerry said. "All decisions we try to make are in the best interest of the program."

Hairston's departure has put the onus on McGlynn and senior Mike Burwell, and both have responded. Since shifting from shooting guard to point guard, the 6-5, 205-pound Burwell has increased his scoring (from 8.2 to 9.7 points per game) and his assists (1.8 to 3.6) while altering his on-court mentality.

"You've got to be unselfish at point guard," Burwell said. "At first, I'm trying to get guys their shots, but when I get an open shot, I'm going to take it. If I get a lane, I'm going to take it. But I definitely want to get the others involved, because that's going to open things up."

McGlynn is averaging 12 points per game since replacing Hairston. Shooting 45.1 percent (32-of-71) from the floor and 42.6 percent (23-of-54) from three-point range, McGlynn has become the deep threat who can alleviate some of the defensive focus on senior forward Jerrelle Benimon and Marcus Damas with his perimeter game.

"I don't think there's any pressure on my shoulders," McGlynn said. "We have a great team, and we've been playing really well. So there's no individual pressure on me, because I know that whether I have a bad game or not, we have five or six other guys that can step in and have great games."

Perhaps the largest indication that the team can absorb Hairston's absence is that the Tigers are averaging more points (68.8 to 76.1) and more assists (10.8 to 13.3) in their 10 games without the point guard.

"I think offensively, our ball movement and chemistry has been the best it's been," Skerry said. "I still think that we all would have liked to be better than 9-6, and that's good that expectations have changed here, because certainly that's better than we've ever been."

The path to Baltimore Arena — and even greater heights — begins with conference play on Saturday.

"We're 0-0, and we need to get a good start against Wilmington, and we'll see what happens from there," Skerry said. "But yeah, we can win the league, and that's the goal. But we also know that we're not going to win it just by rolling it out there and showing up. We do have a prideful group that expects to win the league, and it's good to expect that. But we have to make sure that we do what we're supposed to do, and that we stick to the script in order to do that."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BasketballCollege SportsColonial Athletic AssociationNorth Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks
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