By Mike Klingaman
The Baltimore Sun
6:48 PM EST, January 11, 2013
The last time Towson rode a four-game winning streak in men's basketball, this year's team was in grade school. Bill Clinton was president, Michael Phelps was a medal-less Olympian and iPods didn't exist.
"Not since 2000? That's crazy," said Marcus Damas, Towson's 6-foot-7 forward and a reason the Tigers are on a four-game roll. "We didn't know that until our media people started throwing out statistics."
Towson (8-8) goes for its fifth straight against Northeastern (8-7) at noon Saturday in the Towson Center. At stake is first place in the Colonial Athletic Association: both teams are 3-0 in league play.
These are heady times for the Tigers, who went 1-31 last year, their 16th consecutive losing season.
"It's definitely a big change, a great change," guard Mike Burwell said. "I'm getting texts from friends saying, 'Wow, this wasn't expected but we're glad it happened.'
"Somebody messaged me, wondering if there would be a movie made about us."
Presumptuous, of course. But Towson's drought is over, Northeastern coach Bill Coen said.
"Theirs is arguably one of the most improved programs in the country. They've recruited some outstanding talent, and their front court is of Big East caliber," Coen said. "To go 1-31 is grueling, so I'm happy for Towson's kids.
"It's good to see that growth, as long as it's not at our expense."
Both teams are coming off overtime victories. Northeastern defeated Drexel, the preseason conference favorite, 63-58, while Towson turned back William & Mary, 99-86 in double overtime. In that game, Damas scored 19 points and Burwell had 18. Forward Jerrelle Benimon, the Tigers' workhorse all year, led scorers with 26. All are juniors.
Damas has scored in double digits in five straight games; Burwell, in three. Their new-found muscle has eased the burden on Benimon, who is averaging 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game.
"It took awhile, but Marcus and I are getting more aggressive on offense," Burwell said. "We tease Jerrelle about our scoring now, but I think he's happy that we're coming into our own. With everybody clicking, it makes it easier on him."
Pat Skerry, Towson's second-year coach, is pleased with his team — to a point.
"I had hoped we'd be better, but I'm happy with what we've done the last two weeks," said Skerry, who has cobbled together a squad comprised mostly of transfers and freshmen.
"We know we have good players, they're just new to each other and it takes time to piece that together. We've got a ways to go. You have to experience growing pains before you move on."
Towson's hefty early schedule should reap dividends, Skerry said. The Tigers upset Oregon State on the road and lost to Temple, Eastern Kentucky and Georgetown, the latter by six points.
"We've been a little battle-tested," the coach said.
Despite its success, Towson doesn't expect a large crowd, with students on semester break and the Ravens' playoff game on TV later in the afternoon.
"But our sports teams are on campus, and they'll be here," Damas said. "It's a huge game for us — and for the program as a whole. It'll be fun when [the students] come back and start coming to games.
"When you go 1-31, there's not much of a buzz."
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