Early in Colonial Athletic Association play, multiple teams made cases for themselves as contenders for the regular season title. But in recent weeks a clear favorite has emerged: UNCW. Kevin Keatts’s team won its 20th game of the season Saturday afternoon, moving to 12-2 in CAA play, with a 78-68 win over James Madison on NBC Sports Network.
The Seahawks, who have now won 11 straight games, were led offensively by Craig Ponder, who scored a team-high 19 points with Chris Flemmings adding 17 and 11 rebounds and Jordon Talley’s 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. UNCW shot just over 39 percent from the field, but they outscored James Madison 30-12 from beyond the arc and forced 17 JMU turnovers.
James Madison played without a key cog in leading scorer Ron Curry, who suffered a knee injury in the Dukes’ win at Charleston Thursday night. Tom Vodanovich scored 17 points and Winston Grays 15 for the Dukes, who are now 19-8 overall and 9-5 in CAA play.
The College of Charleston was scheduled to play a game at James Madison Saturday afternoon, but thanks to a winter storm the game has been pushed back to Sunday afternoon. According to the announcement from James Madison, tipoff is scheduled for Noon Sunday.
This is an important game for the Dukes (10-5 CAA, 17-11 overall), who entered Saturday tied atop the CAA standings in the loss column with UNCW (11-5), Northeastern and William & Mary (10-5). After losing consecutive games to William & Mary and UNCW, Matt Brady’s team has won four straight entering Sunday’s game.
The Dukes won the first meeting of the season between the two teams, beating the Cougars 61-50 January 5. Ron Curry scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Yohanny Dalembert added 14 and three blocked shots. Charleston shot 37 percent from the field and 6-for-25 from beyond the arc in that home defeat.
Given how much production James Madison lost from last season’s NCAA tournament team and the fact that Andre Nation won’t be available until the Dukes begin CAA play, it comes as no surprise that they’ve struggled offensively this season. Charles Cooke (15.6 ppg, 4.0 rgp, 2.1 apg), Ron Curry (11.9, 4.5, 2.7) and Andre Semenov (11.3, 4.8) are all averaging double digits, but from an efficiency standpoint the 2013-14 season has been a struggle for Matt Brady’s bunch.
JMU entered Saturday’s game against Hampton ranked 261st in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy, and if not for their ability to get to the foul line (48th in free throw rate) it can be argued that the Dukes would be even worse than their 3-9 record. JMU once again struggled offensively on Saturday, scoring 0.85 points per possession and turning the ball over on nearly 28% of their possessions.
But they still shot better from the field than the Pirates, who made just 32% of their shots from the field and 24% (6-for-25) from beyond the arc. The end result: a much-needed 55-49 victory in the first game of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic, with Curry leading all scorers with 19 points and being the most polished offensive player on the floor. Curry shot 7-for-10 from the field, and in a game that saw James Madison (4-9) turn the ball over 18 times (Cooke was responsible for six) the sophomore guard didn’t commit one.
Cooke (1-for-7, five points) and Semenov (3-for-10, eight points) struggled offensively, but the 14 points and 21 rebounds supplied by the combination of Taylor Bessick (eight points, ten rebounds) and Tom Vodanovich (six points, 11 rebounds) helped James Madison account for two of their top three players having off afternoons. Brian Darden led three Hampton (5-7) players in double figures with 14 points.
Will much change when Nation returns to the rotation next month? Probably not, but he is a key component for James Madison and he’ll help them as the Dukes move towards the all-important conference tournament in March. The good news, and the difference, on Saturday was the fact that they still have Ron Curry.
James Madison on Monday announced that sophomore guard Andre Nation has been suspended the first 15 games of the 2013-14 season due to a violation of athletic department policy.
According to a release from the university, Nation — the lone returning starter for James Madison this season — will be suspended until the Dukes’ second Colonial Athletic Association game of the season on January 7th at the College of Charleston.
The 6’5″ sophomore from Plant City, Florida averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season for the Dukes and was expected to compete for CAA All-Conference honors this season.
“It is an unfortunate situation,” James Madison Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said in the release. “I feel for the coaches, our student-athletes and many other folks who are invested in our program. We’re disappointed in Andre and hope that he is able to learn from this incident.”
Dukes head coach Matt Brady also commented in the release, stating, “We’re disappointed in Andre’s actions, and we hope that he learns a life lesson, that he is part of something greater than himself and is accountable to his team and to the entire JMU community.”
James Madison will now have five new starters for at least the first 15 games of this season after winning last season’s CAA Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Second Round after defeating LIU Brooklyn in a first-round matchup of 16 seeds. The Dukes then fell to Indiana in the Second Round.