RICHMOND, DEC. 28 -- Billy Coles scored a career-high 33 points and Steve Hood totaled 17 of his 23 in the second half tonight to lead James Madison to a 90-78 victory over Virginia Commonwealth in the opening round of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Invitational.
The Dukes (4-4) will face Virginia Tech, an 82-79 winner over Richmond, in the title game.
With Hood making his first two shots of the second half, James Madison maintained an advantage that grew to 69-62 with 8:29 remaining.
Virginia Commonwealth (4-7) played strictly man-to-man defense for the final seven minutes and closed to 71-70 with 6:58 to go on a turnaround jumper by Eric Atkins (14 points).
That was as close as the Rams got, however, as the Dukes converted 12 straight free throws in the final two minutes to hand VCU its seventh loss in eight games.
The Rams tried a variety of defenses, finally settling on a box-and-one against Hood that held him scoreless for the final 15 minutes of the first half.
"This was a good win for us," Dukes Coach Lefty Driesell said. VCU Coach Sonny Smith "tried every defense I'd seen, and I thought our guys handled it well."
Richmond (4-3) overcame a 40-33 halftime deficit with a 15-7 run that was capped by Terry Connolly's three-pointer with 15 minutes left.
The lead changed six times in the next five minutes, before the Spiders built a 68-63 lead. Virginia Tech (5-2) came back with seven unanswered points in less than a minute, the last two on a Dirk Williams breakaway dunk, to take a 70-68 lead.
Richmond regained the upperhand at 79-78 on a basket by Jim Springer, before John Rivers's three-point play with 49 seconds to go put the Hokies ahead to stay.