For the second time in two seasons, James Madison went into a game's final moments with a chance to secure the kind of victory over a high-profile team that would begin to carve a national niche for Coach Lefty Driesell's ambitious program. But once again, all the Dukes' efforts yielded was a frustrating defeat, with 13th-ranked Oklahoma prevailing, 64-61, before 16,238 last night at Capital Centre.
The game was the opening half of a doubleheader that concluded with Georgetown's Big East opener, a 73-65 victory over Seton Hall. It also was a golden, once-a-season opportunity for the Dukes (5-6), who led by five points at halftime and had several possessions in the closing minutes with chances to tie or take the lead.
But they self-destructed each time, and the result brought to mind a bitter loss last year to North Carolina in which they also gave away the game down the stretch. Last night James Madison was beaten despite holding Oklahoma (11-2) 49 points below its scoring average and harassing the Sooners into 35 percent shooting -- including a nightmarish, nine-of-37 effort in the first half.
Guard Brent Price missed eight of nine shots and scored but two points, and his two off-target free throws with 1:20 remaining gave James Madison the ball with a 62-61 deficit.
But Steve Hood missed on a drive and, after the Sooners lost the rebound out of bounds, Chancellor Nichols couldn't connect on either of two foul shots. Terrence Mullins missed on a swooping drive for Oklahoma, but Jeff Webster tipped in the rebound with 17 seconds to play and James Madison watched a pair of last-gasp three-point attempts go awry.
Driesell was distraught afterward, more with the way his club lost than its losing. It has been an exhausting and exasperating month for the Dukes, who haven't played at home since Dec. 8. They've crisscrossed the continent since, and they've spent their past two games chasing perhaps the nation's two most potent offensive clubs, top-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas (an 89-65 loss on Wednesday) and Oklahoma.
"I'm tired; I ain't never going to schedule like this again," said Driesell, whose club fell to the Sooners by 33 points last year in Oklahoma. "We've had a tour of the world, but this ain't for me. . . . I don't mind losing on a jump shot, but I don't like to lose on a layup or an offensive rebound.
"I hate to lose a ballgame shooting free throws because, hell, I can shoot free throws. . . . I don't know if it comes from choking or what."
Said Hood: "That's one we definitely should've had, and it'll stick in our minds for a while."
Webster finished with a game-high 24 points, and Mullins added 12 for Oklahoma. He also shadowed Hood, limiting the Dukes' star to five-of-14 shooting; Hood missed five of 15 free throws as well but still managed 20 points to pace James Madison. Billy Coles provided 12 and Fess Irvin 11.
The Dukes had an early nine-point lead, but Oklahoma held them scoreless for four minutes and forged a 17-all tie. The Sooners soon turned cold themselves, though, and a 10-3 Dukes surge to close the first half provided their five-point advantage, 31-26, at intermission.