JMU’s Andre Nation (right) steals the ball from W&M’s Brandon Britt with help from teammate Alioune Diouf on Wednesday night. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — How’s that for a third scorer?
Two days after coach Matt Brady implored A.J. Davis to be a more consistent offensive threat to fortify the production of fellow seniors Devon Moore and Rayshawn Goins, Davis poured in a season-high 27 points, including seven second-half 3’s, to lift James Madison to an 81-71 win over William & Mary.
Goins was inactive due to a right foot injury suffered Saturday against George Mason, but the Dukes didn’t need him to improve to 14-11 overall, 8-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The win, coupled with a loss by Delaware on Wednesday, put the Dukes back in second place in the league.
JMU hadn’t scored more than 64 points in its previous nine basketball games, but exploded with a 51-point second half thanks to a somewhat unlikely source.
“It’s kind of crazy. But that’s the ability that he has,” said Brady. “It’s why it’s so puzzling to us, but when he’s open, he can make shots. He made good decisions on his shot selection tonight, and our guys found him. I thought we were really unselfish. I thought the ball really moved tonight.”
Senior point guard Devon Moore initiated the offense, racking up a career-high 12 assists to go with 17 points. He also played shut-down defense, cooling off William & Mary’s own shooting star.
Sophomore guard Marcus Thornton scored 21 points in the game’s first 27-plus minutes for the Tribe (9-13, 3-8), but finished with only 22. That’s because Moore, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, suggested a new defensive strategy and then employed it perfectly.
“I just asked Coach, ‘I think if we deny him, that will be a lot easier for us,’” Moore said. “I told him that I wanted to do it. I was able to deny him the ball, make it hard for him.”
Thornton said Moore was “face-guarding me, not letting me catch the ball, stuff like that.”
The teams were tied at the half after Davis made a put-back slam 24 seconds before intermission. He had just four points in the first half, but that play seemed to give him life after an earlier defensive gaffe earned him a spot on the bench.
“[Brady] chewed me out early, so I sat down, came back in the game, was a little more focused,” Davis said of his ability to rebound from the mistake, in which he gambled for a steal, allowing W&M to make a wide open 3-pointer in a 5-on-4 situation.
JMU began the second half on an 8-0 run, and then after consecutive W&M baskets, the Dukes scored 18 points on their next six possessions. That span consisted of four 3s by Davis, one by freshman Ron Curry and an old-fashioned three-point play by Moore.
Davis kept gunning — and hitting — finishing 9-for-13 from the floor and 7-for-10 from 3-point range. He was one 3-pointer and three points shy of his career highs in those categories, both set last year in separate games.
“When a guy like Davis makes a couple, you really got to guard him,” W&M coach Tony Shaver said. “Our scouting report on him was to make him put it on the floor, and he had seven 3s that were just catch-and-shoot 3s, so we didn’t pay attention to detail in those situations. I’ll give him credit for making the shots, too. He’s a guy that can really get hot. He can really help them or he can really hurt them sometimes with his shot selection, but he was special in the second half.”
The unpredictable swingman reached double figures just once in the previous eight games. He needed only 25 minutes to inflict serious damage on the Tribe.
While Davis and JMU were scorching in the second half, so too was W&M. The Tribe made 53.2 percent of its shots for the game, and 60 percent in the second half. It also connected on 14 of 27 3-pointers.
“We kind of wasted a lot of them tonight,” Shaver said.
After JMU stretched its lead to 12 on Moore’s layup and free throw with 12:09 remaining, W&M never got within single digits again.
A small crowd of 2,821 was at the Convocation Center for the Dukes’ last of three straight home games before the team hits the road for a meeting at Drexel on Sunday.
Brady said he expects Goins, the team’s leading scorer (13.8 ppg) to be active for that game. Goins was the only Duke to start in the team’s first 24 games.
Sophomore Enoch Hood scored seven points in his first start of the season, playing in the place of Goins. Brady also inserted Charles Cooke and Alioune Diouf into the lineup, taking over for recent starters Ron Curry and Taylor Bessick.
Halftime—Tied 30-30. 3-Point Goals—William & Mary 14-27 (Thornton 5-8, Rum 3-5, Boatner 2-3, Gaillard 2-5, Britt 2-6), James Madison 9-20 (Davis 7-10, Curry 1-3, Nation 1-4, Moore 0-1, Cooke 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—William & Mary 27 (Rusthoven 9), James Madison 32 (Cooke 8). Assists—William & Mary 18 (Rum 5), James Madison 21 (Moore 12). Total Fouls—William & Mary 15, James Madison 14. A—2,821.