DAYTON, Ohio — The James Madison Dukes handled one of the top scorers in the nation Wednesday night. They shut down a high-octane offense. They thrived at times with their top rebounder on the bench, with their point guard in foul trouble, with a pair of young freshmen dictating the pace.
Their reward: a daunting date against Indiana, the region’s top-seeded team — akin to scaling a speed bump on the road leading to Mt. Everest.
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.
“Once we stick together, we’re good defensively,” Nation said. “We know that.”
The Blackbirds had posted at least 90 points in each of their previous four games. The Dukes held them to a season-low 55 on Wednesday.
“Coach stressed it to us day in and day out, if we’re going to win this game, the defensive game was going to do it for us,” Davis said. “We had to be locked in.”
Wednesday’s game marked the third straight tournament appearance for the Blackbirds — and their third straight first-round exit. They were led by senior Jamal Olasewere, a Silver Spring native and 2008-09 All-Met player at Springbrook High, who finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting and 10 rebounds. C.J. Garner, also a Springbrook product, chipped in 16, despite playing much of the game on a sprained ankle.
Goins finished with four points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes of action for the Dukes. James Madison will need him Friday. Against Indiana, Brady said the Dukes will have no choice but to go with a bigger lineup. It’s a challenge they’re happy to face.
“As I said to our kids before we went to the CAA tournament last weekend, this is the experience of a lifetime we’ll never forget,” Brady said, “and Friday will be the most significant experience that any of them have ever had.”
●LA SALLE 80, BOISE STATE 71:Junior Tyrone Garland came off the bench to score a team-high 22 points and three teammates also scored in double figures as the Explorers topped the Broncos in a play-in game between No. 13 seeds.
Making its first tournament appearance since 1992, La Salle advances to face No. 4 Kansas State on Friday in Kansas City, Mo., where the Explorers will try to match their sharp shooting performance from Wednesday’s game.
The Explorers shot 63 percent from the field and beat the Broncos at their own game, drilling 11 of 21 three-point attempts. Boise State came into the game as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, and shot 7 of 18 from behind the arc.
For La Salle, Garland was 9 of 11 from the field, and senior Ramon Galloway chipped in 21 points and junior Sam Mills added 15 to help the Explorers. Boise State sophomore Anthony Drmic led all scorers with 28.
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