Towson forward Jerrelle Benimon, a Fauquier product, had more success in the Verizon Center on Saturday than in a game he played there as a Georgetown Hoya. --Photo by Jeff Via/Towson athletics
Jerrelle Benimon’s stardom didn’t die when he left Fauquier High four seasons ago and went to play for Georgetown at the Verizon Center.
It simply receded below the horizon.
On Saturday, it finally rose again when he returned to Washington, D.C., as a member of the Towson University men’s basketball team.
Benimon, who transferred from Georgetown after the 2010-11 season, finished with a game-high 11 points and 16 rebounds against his former team, and Towson nearly shocked the No. 15 Hoyas. Georgetown fans got their first glimpse of a versatile skill set that Benimon honed at Fauquier but never had the opportunity to showcase during two seasons as a Hoya.
Georgetown squeaked by the Tigers, 46-40, but Benimon made a statement with his play and proved to be one of the best players on the floor.
"I wish we would have won, but it was a good game all around," Benimon said. "I was pretty pumped up coming back to Verizon Center. It was a good experience."
While with the Hoyas, he averaged only 1.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, .4 blocks, .4 assists and .2 steals per game in 11.1 minutes per contest. In nine games with the Tigers, Benimon averages 33.9 minutes per game, which has translated into averages of 15.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals.
He's helped Towson post a 4-5 record after it set an NCAA record for futility last season with a 41-game losing streak that stretched back to 2010-11.
"Last year was tough for the school," Benimon said. "Now people know there's something special coming. So it feels good."
Benimon did not play last season, per NCAA rules, after transferring from Georgetown (8-1) to Towson, but Tigers coach Pat Skerry had high expectations for the junior.
Skerry uses the 6-foot-8 245-pound Benimon much differently than Hoyas coach John Thompson III did.
For Towson, Benimon often brings the ball up court, but he also posts up on the block and rebounds with tenacity. He sets screens in the high post, too, feeds the ball into the low post and finds open teammates on the perimeter. He even knocks down 3-pointers of his own.
"We think he's going to be one of the top players in our conference," said Skerry, whose Tigers play in the Colonial Athletic Association.
On Saturday, Benimon looked like the player who did it all at Fauquier rather than the player who was relegated to mostly rebounding at Georgetown.
Skerry wasn't even sure, at first, that Benimon had the diverse skills that the junior showed this week.
"I knew he was a big, physical, rugged rebounder," the second-year coach said. "What we didn't know until we had him on a daily basis [at the start of last season] was that he could become that hybrid forward and play inside-out."
On Saturday, Benimon displayed his range by making a put-back layup and a 3-pointer; by breaking the Hoyas' full-court press and blocking two Georgetown shots. He posted his third consecutive double-double and fifth overall in Towson’s nine games.
"I guess I'm getting [more] shots up these days," he said. "Georgetown was a good experience. Who wouldn't want to play at Georgetown. … But you fit in some offenses; you don't fit in some."
As a Hoya, Benimon never scored more than nine points in a game or had more than six rebounds. He seemed muzzled by the Hoyas' "Princeton" offense. Yet he and Skerry believe spending two seasons at Georgetown helped Benimon develop into the impact player his is now.
"He became a better passer, and understanding spacing and screening, from his time here at Georgetown," Skerry said.
Sitting out a season due to the NCAA transfer rules also helped, Skerry said.
“Not playing basketball for over a year was real tough, especially when your team's losing,” Benimon said.
“But,” Skerry said, "he just got a chance to develop his game and got a lot better. … He really worked hard.”
Benimon's performance against Georgetown was likely his most satisfying this season, but it wasn't even his best.
He's had more than 10 rebounds in five games and more than 10 points in seven, including 23 points against College of Charleston in his first game as a Tiger and a career-high 29 against Vermont on Dec. 5.
“This week he took major, major strides forward – playing both ends of the floor, being a leader," Skerry said. "He can be a special player for us and have a long career playing basketball."
Benimon leads Towson in minutes played (305), points (130) field goal percentage (.529), blocks (14) and rebounds (95). He's also second in 3-point percentage (.364), assists (17) and steals (11), and he was named the CAA Co-Player of the Week on Nov. 10.
He has helped bring more optimism to Towson's Maryland campus along with fellow Big East transfers Mike Burwell (South Florida) and Bilal Dixon (Providence), who combined for nine points and 10 rebounds Saturday. Freshman Jerome Hariston had 10 points and a team-high three assists as the Tigers' nine-man rotation includes only two returning players from the team that struggled last season.
Thanks to those newcomers, the Tigers seem guaranteed to finish with their best record since 2009-10. After breaking the 41-game losing streak Jan. 28, 2012, Towson finished last season with a 1-31 record. In 2010-11, the Tigers went 4-26 and ended the season on a 19-game losing streak.
“The proverbial train was off the tracks,” Skerry said. “The biggest thing is I got a lot of new and better players.”
He said Benimon has been a "big time" influence of Towson's turnaround.
"We can be really good. We've got a lot of talent," Benimon said. "We're really good defensively and rebounding the hell out of the ball.
"When conference play comes around I think we can be up there," he said.
Towson's loss to Georgetown was a non-conference game, but Benimon said playing a top-15 team so tight should help the Tigers' confidence. Towson led as late as 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the second half and never trailed by more than the final six-point margin.
"We have just as much athleticism as them," Benimon said. "They're long, but we're physically just as big."
Towson out-rebounded the Hoyas 38-32 and had six blocks to Georgetown's five.
"It obviously helps having a great rebounder like Jerrelle on the floor. He was a monster," Skerry said. "He was dominant out there. … He can be as good as any player we see on any given night."
Benimon's history with the Hoyas seemed to help Towson on Saturday.
The Tigers defense, for example, limited the effectiveness of Georgetown's back-cuts and help the Hoyas to 15 points on 16.7 percent shooting in the first half.
"He might know what we’re trying to do more than some of the guys in our locker room," Thompson said. "He’s a very smart player and he’s a tough player."
Georgetown improved in the second half, but still shot only 29.2 percent on the day.
After the game, Benimon hugged many of the Georgetown players and coaches, and he walked over to press row to shake the hand of legendary Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr.
"He's a good person and he's one of the best coaches ever," Benimon said. "I'm still pretty cool with the coaches and a couple of the players, so it was fun playing against them again."
Benimon played at Georgetown with current Hoyas Nate Lubick, Markel Starks, Moses Ayegba and John Caprio.
"It was a little weird just because I played with him freshman year," said Lubick, who often covered Benimon on Saturday, and vice versa. "We kind of new each other's tenancies. But it was a good experience."
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Benimon’s per-game stat comparison
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