Life can be maddening when the opponent is James Madison. Just ask top-ranked Virginia. For nine minutes tonight, the Cavaliers got the living limelights scared out of them.
That Virginia came on to score a 51-34 victory over James Madison before a high-decible sellout of 7,700 in the new Convocation Center was a tribute not to Ralph Sampson, who scored just nine points tonight in his return home, or to a fast start. In fact, Virginia didn't even score in the game's first five minutes.
Rather, it is a tribute to guards Othell Wilson and Ricky Stokes, who scored 14 and 11 points while Sampson's shooting touch (four of 11) seemed lost.
Although Virginia didn't score until forward Tim Mullen made an 18-footer from straight on with 14:43 left in the half, that really was no big deal. James Madison's shooting was so poor that this made the score 4-2.
The significant difference tonight was simply this: Virginia's shooting improved from 36 percent in the first half to 61 percent in the second. James Madison shot 26 percent in the each half.
The Dukes finished with school records for futility with a 26.8 percent shooting percentage and a 34-point finish. And to think, things started so well.
"If we shoot at least 40 percent tonight, it's a five-point game. If we shoot 50 percent, who knows," said James Madison Coach Lou Campanelli. Campanelli admitted that on the eve of this game, he daydreamed the game would be close, maybe even decided at the buzzer.
Of course it wasn't, even though for five scoreless opening minutes, it seemed like Virginia might comply with Campanelli's fairy tale.
"I asked myself in the first five minutes 'Could they have done something to the basket?' " Virginia Coach Terry Holland said.
James Madison kept slowing the pace. "They took us out of what we wanted to do," said Virginia forward Jim Miller.
"They were banging us around, keeping tight to us. They're a physical team," said Virginia forward Craig Robinson, who failed to score.
There was little continuity in the first half. James Madison took time in taking its shots, although that didn't help. Obviously. "We were missing wide-open shots, too," said JMU guard Charles Fisher, who scored a team-high 14 points.
A 10-2 Cavalier run in the middle of the first half opened the Virginia lead to 10-6. By the half, that lead grew to eight. The Virginia lead remained at or near eight through much of the second half.
When Sampson made a six-foot hook from the lane with 8:10 left, though, the Virginia lead reached 36-24. That is when the crowd stopped percolating, when thoughts of an upset perished. The rest was formality.
"No, the home crowd didn't bother me as much this time as it did last time," Sampson said. He was referring to his visit here in his sophomore year, when he played so poorly and got so nervous in Virginia's 53-52 victory that he got a technical foul and, at one point, started hyperventilating. He was that nervous.
"Did they fear us in the first half?" Campanelli asked with a wry smile. "Let's just say, they respected us."
Then Campanelli, the 11th-year coach who has a 190-80 record at James Madison, said, "When the polls call, I'm going to vote Virginia No. 1. That much I know."