With 9 minutes and 15 seconds left to play, the College of Charleston trailed Towson, 48-41, with the game still very much in doubt.
Up until that moment, it had been a back-and-forth game with neither team able to take control of the momentum or the outcome.
During the next minute, the Cougars would take four shots, crashing the glass and scrambling for three offensive rebounds and getting three more opportunities to cut it to a two-possession game. On the Cougars’ last attempt, Anthony Stitt’s jumper was tipped out of bounds and the ball went over to Towson with 8:42 left in the game.
Four times the Cougars had a chance to cut into the Tigers’ lead and four times they failed to convert.
Towson’s Mike Burwell scored on a driving layup on the Tigers’ next possession to give Towson a 50-41 lead.
Jerrelle Benimon, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association player of the year, scored 21 points and hauled in 11 rebounds and Burwell added 18 points to lead Towson past College of Charleston, 72-57, Sunday before a crowd of 3,219 at TD Arena.
That one minute-stretch in the second half was a microcosm of the afternoon for the Cougars, who fell to 10-9 overall and 2-2 in the CAA.
“That one segment where we got three offensive rebounds in a row, we just couldn’t convert,” said senior Willis Hall, who led the Cougars with 20 points and 12 rebounds. “At that point, you’ve got to find something, you have to attack the hole, make shots, one way or the other we needed to come away with some points in that possession.”
Instead the Tigers (12-6, 3-0) went on a 9-0 run with Burwell chipping in seven points during the spurt to take a 57-41 lead on Benimon’s short jumper with 5:17 to play.
This wasn’t the same Towson team the Cougars blew out by 17 points (95-78) in last year’s season opener. The Tigers were physical from the opening tip, and behind Benimon and Burwell took the ball to the rim almost at will against the Cougars for the entire 40 minutes.
“They came in here with a mission,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. “We beat them pretty good here last year. They have some really good players.”
Benimon was no mystery to the Cougars. The Georgetown transfer scored 23 points a year ago in the loss. And while Cougars center Adjehi Baru made him work for all of his points, he was still able to influence the game. Benimon was seven of 17 from the floor and handed out three assists.
“Benimon played well, he’s a very skilled player,” Wojcik said. “He didn’t hurt us in the post, but he hurt us off the dribble with the pass. He finds shooters. He’s a point-forward and a very good college point-forward. He’s got great ball skills. He played 40 minutes and didn’t look tired. He did a nice job.”
Burwell, who had just three points in the loss a year ago, hurt the Cougars all game. Stitt, the Cougars’ best defender, was giving up five inches to the 6-5 Burwell and could barely slow him down when Burwell drove to the basket.
“To be honest, we underestimated him a little bit,” Wojcik said. “Anthony is such a good defender, but size has bothered him in the past. Give Burwell credit, he played well.”
The problems for the Cougars started early when they got off to a fast start, but failed to capitalize on chances to extend their advantage during the first half. Hall’s 3-pointer with 11:22 to play gave the Cougars a 14-9 advantage.
“We were up four or five points in the first half and we should have been up 10 points,” Wojcik said. “We gave up second shots and loose balls. I told them during timeouts that we didn’t have that first step. We didn’t get to many 50-50 balls. After that, their individual skill took over.”
Still, the Cougars trailed just 31-29 at halftime.
On the Cougars’ first possession of the second half, Wojcik ran a play designed to give Baru an easy dunk. The execution was flawless up until Baru missed the dunk.
Benimon knocked down a 17-foot jumper and Burwell scored on a driving layup on the next two possessions, and the Tigers took control of the game.
“I thought that was a big turning point,” Wojcik said.
The Cougars will host UNC Wilmington on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at TD Arena.
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