The Dukes picked up their first NCAA tournament win in 30 years Wednesday night, disposing of LIU Brooklyn, 68-55, in a play-in game. They advance to face the Hoosiers on Friday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena, where they’ll try to become the first No. 16 seed in tournament history to upset a No. 1.
“We’re about to play one of the best teams in the country. . . . I mean, they’re Indiana. We know about them,” said the Dukes’ Andre Nation. “We see them on TV all the time. It’s not nothing new.”
The Hoosiers will surely study tape of Wednesday’s game to get to know the Dukes, too, and what they’ll see is a balanced attack, players who can be relentless on defense and a variety of scorers who can step up.
On Wednesday that included senior A.J. Davis, who posted a team-high 20 points. He came off the bench in 25 of the Dukes’ games this season, averaging fewer than 10 points per game almost the entire way. But Davis cracked the starting lineup just before the conference tournament and in his past 11 games, he’s averaging 20 points and shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.
And then there was 18-year old Charles Cooke, who accounted for all of two points in the previous four games. He finished with 15 points and five rebounds against the Blackbirds.
And don’t forget Nation, a fellow freshman guard who was everywhere Wednesday, tallying 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots.
At times the Dukes barely appeared to miss Rayshawn Goins, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder who was suspended by Dukes Coach Matt Brady for the opening half. Back in Harrisonburg, police arrested Goins on Sunday on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing justice, stemming from an incident at a party the night before.
Cooke replaced him in the starting lineup and posted a team-high 10 points in the first half. Goins is listed at 6 feet 6, 265 pounds, and the Dukes missed his presence under the basket, as the Blackbirds held a 20-12 rebounding advantage and outscored the James Madison, 14-6, in the paint in the opening half.
Still, it was James Madison that cruised early, holding an advantage for the entire half. Their crisp ball movement kept the Blackbirds off balance, and the Dukes led by as many as 12. But late in the half, LIU Brooklyn put together a quick 8-0 run, and in the final minute, Jason Brickman hit a three-pointer, and E.J. Reed slammed down a thunderous dunk, cutting the James Madison lead to just 32-31 at the break.
The Blackbirds grabbed their first lead of the game five minutes into the second half on a pair of free throws by Reed. But the LIU Brooklyn shooters went cold and were held scoreless for the next four minutes, as the Dukes built a 48-40 lead. James Madison was able to maintain its lead the rest of the way.