Even on a day when his team can muster little else on offense, Towson coach Pat Skerry knows he can always count on forward Jerrelle Benimon.
"Jerrelle's usually a pretty good guy to get the ball to," Skerry said. "Good things tend to happen."
Facing a UNC Wilmington team intent on shutting down Towson's outside shooters, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association player of the year stepped up with 20 points — including 16 in the second half — and 17 rebounds, as the host Tigers held off UNC Wilmington, 60-53, before an announced 1,750.
The win came in the first-ever conference game at SECU Arena for Towson (10-6, 1-0), which won 10 games faster than in any season since 1977-78, and faster than in any season at the Division I level.
It also extended the Tigers home winning streak to 13 games dating to last season, one the longest home winning streaks in the nation.
On this day, it might have come to an abrupt end if not for Benimon, who picked up his 10th double-double in 16 games this season by continually fighting through defenders to get close shots.
"Shots [close] to the basket are the easiest shots in the game," Benimon said. "You get layups, and then as you hit layups people get more confidence, and outside shots start falling."
But the rest of Towson's shooters struggled mightily against a defense that remained in a packed-in zone for virtually the entire game. While Benimon was 6 of 13 from the field, the remainder of the team was just 12 of 40 (30 percent), including seven of 23 from three-point range.
"I thought a big difference was that Benimon was a tough load for us," UNC Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson said. "No matter if you're in a man or a zone, he can just get to the glass, get to the hole and score."
He did lots of that early in the second half, as the Tigers broke a 30-30 tie with an 8-0 run, punctuated by Benimon's driving layup following a steal off an inbounds pass by teammate Rafriel Guthrie with 14:13 left. New starting point guard Four McGlynn also added 11 points and quarterbacked an offense that finished with a season-low six turnovers.
UNC Wilmington (6-12, 0-3), meanwhile, lived up to its ranking as the worst three-point shooting team in the nation. The Seahawks finished 2 for 14 beyond the arc after entering the day ranked No. 351 of 351 Division I teams, according to ESPN.com.
"When you can't make a three, it puts more pressure [on you] and makes it difficult for everyone," said Peterson, who didn't get a single point from any player coming off the bench. "It just makes that margin of error squeeze up a little bit."
The Seahawks, who were led by guard Chris Dixon (17 points) and forward Cedrick Williams (15 points, seven rebounds), got as close as 55-51 following Dixon's fastbreak layup off a turnover. But Towson then went back up by six when guard Marcus Damas drove and scored on a short jumper with 1:27 left.
The Tigers then sealed the win at the foul line.
Skerry's team finished the game shooting 34 percent from the field, its second lowest output of the season. It's a statistic he know will need to improve as Towson enters the heart of CAA play.
"We still haven't had one of those nights where our main four or five guys all shoot it well," Skerry said. "Hopefully, that happens at some point. I think when that happens, we become dangerous."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun