The Towson men’s basketball team overcame a stilted first-half performance and cruised to an eventual 75-60 victory over visiting UMBC at SECU Arena on Tuesday night. And the Tigers triumphed without starting point guard Jerome Hairston.
The sophomore has been suspended indefinitely, and coach Pat Skerry declined to comment on the specifics of the suspension. Until Hairston, who averages 5.0 points and 1.8 assists, returns, senior Mike Burwell will be the primary ball handler.
“Love it,” Burwell said of the responsibility. “I like having the ball in my hands. They make it easy for me. They’re hitting shots and they’re opening things up for me, and I’m opening things up for them. So it’s great.”
But Burwell also conceded that Hairston’s absence was palpable.
“He’s very dearly missed,” Burwell said. “He’s a great part of our team, a great person, a great teammate, a great individual. It’s tough times right now, but we’ve definitely got to get over the hump. Hopefully soon, he’ll be back, but if not, we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
Hairston’s absence was noticed by the Retrievers (2-5), who at times in the first half applied full-court pressure to test Towson (4-2).
“The fact that one of their primary ball handlers wasn’t in the game tonight presented a problem,” UMBC coach Aki Thomas said. “So we really wanted to try to increase tempo that way. We knew that [senior forward Jerrelle] Benimon was going to have to bring the ball up, and we knew they were pretty much going to have to bring it up by committee once we knew that Hairston was out.”
Benimon had a game-high six assists, while Burwell was second on the team with three. He also tied senior guard Rafriel Guthrie with a team-worst four turnovers and took just four shots, finishing with four points.
Tigers coach Pat Skerry said no one should be shocked that Burwell handled the ball as much as he did.
“He’s been doing that a lot, and we’ll play through Jerrelle and [sophomore] Four [McGlynn],” Skerry said. “Most guys know that Jerrelle’s been our leading assists guy, and I don’t know a lot about coaching, but he’s usually a pretty good guy to play through. Seems to work pretty good. I thought Mike was really good defensively. Probably didn’t get enough shot attempts. I still think our ball movement wasn’t where it needs to be. We were still fighting drives.”
There is no timetable for Hairston’s return, and until it comes, Towson is intent on keeping the engine running.
“As a team, we’ve just got to get over it,” said senior forward Marcus Damas, who scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “I leave the outside stuff to the coaches. Don’t get me wrong, Jerome’s a great guy. But we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got goals.”