George Mason looks to tame the improving Towson Tigers

George Mason looks to tame the improving Towson Tigers
January 23, 2013, 11:45 am
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George Mason's wins this season have largely come on the strength if its assertive defensive effort.

The downside of the Patriots' forceful ways: excessive fouling. Far, far too many whistles are being blown at their expense.

With a chance to leapfrog Towson and move into second place in the CAA by winning on the Tigers' home court, now would be an ideal time to find that happy medium.

The Patriots (11-7, 4-2), winners of four of their last five games, surrender only 61.9 points per game, tops in the conference. They have also committed a CAA-leading 376 fouls or nearly 21 per game.

"We constantly remind [the players] about using their hands as opposed to doing the right thing which is moving your feet, stay vertical," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt. "At the same time, I don't want to take away their aggressiveness."

The coach mused there is also more he can do in this area as well.

"Maybe I can do a better job working the officials, who knows," Hewitt cracked.

Historically, George Mason has certainly worked over Towson (10-10, 5-2), though the improved Tigers currently are in second place, one-half game ahead of the Patriots in the CAA standings.

Towson has never defeated George Mason since joining the conference 12 seasons ago. The Patriots last loss at any point in the series came January 6, 1992. While George Mason has won outright or shared four CAA regular season titles, the Tigers have endured 16 straight losing seasons.

Yeah, nobody is calling this a rivalry, certainly not Towson coach Skerry.

"They are the deepest, most athletic, most talented team in the conference," Skerry said of the Patriots. They've beaten us 19 straight times here at Towson. We're clearly a major underdog. We just hope we can kind of stay in the ball game with them."

Both sides are chasing conference-leading Northeastern, undefeated in six CAA games including a win over George Mason at the Patriot Center. The Patriots will have a payback opportunity Sunday in Boston.

That matchup comes after they face the Tigers, who will be playing their third game in five days. After opening its three-game homestand with a 26-point win over James Madison, Towson lost to Georgia State 71-69 on Monday. One of the top rebounding teams in the country, the Tigers lost the battle of the boards against the Panthers.

"When we've defended and rebounded, we've been in games," Skerry said. "If we deviate from that, we can't win, not right now. We're still a progress with offense, cohesion."

The Tigers have been in most games - and already won nine more than all of last season - largely because of the play of 6-foot-8 transfer Jerrelle Benimon (17.0 ppg, 11.7 rbg). After sitting out the required one season, the ex-Georgetown forward leads the nation in total rebounds and double-doubles with his 14th coming against Georgia State.

Skerry expects the Patriots to send constant double teams in Benimon's direction. Hewitt acknowledges such a plan is in consideration.

"No one player can do it, it's going to take a team effort," Hewitt said of containing Benimon, who the coach favorably with former Ohio State All-American and Boston Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger. "[Benimon's] got that wide body; he's good off the bounce, finishes well, and is a very good rebounder, obviously."

George Mason has the big bodies needed to compete with the conference's top rebounding team with five 6-foot-8 or taller players typically part of the playing rotation, including CAA Rookie of the Week Marko Gujanicic.

Benimon is the likely frontrunner for CAA Player of the Year honors, though George Mason's Sherrod Wright (18.1 points) is certainly in the award-winning mix. In the Patriots 57-46 triumph over Hofstra on Saturday, Wright tallied 21 points, his ninth game with at least 20 or more points this season.

The Patriots held the Pride to 22.9 percent shooting from the field and 1 of 13 from beyond the arc. However, as with many games this season, outside of Wright's scoring, the offensive flow faltered. George Mason shot 36 percent in the second half and missed 10 of 12 3-pointers overall.

 "It's the same old story: we continue to play very good defense and we continue to be a little sporadic on offense," Hewitt said. "I like the fact that our team doesn't allow any inefficiency on the offensive end to impact our defensive energy."