PITTSBURGH – A.J. Davis said he was content just waiting for his number to be called.
Matt Brady said Davis did nothing to show he was ready to go back into the game.
Clearly, there’s still a bit of disconnect between the talented senior and his coach.
Davis, a preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association second-team pick, played just 11 minutes Wednesday during James Madison’s 66-44 loss to North Dakota State, a curious situation given that the Dukes were in the midst of their lowest scoring output since the 2009-10 basketball season.
What did Davis do to get benched?
“Nothing really. Nothing,” Brady said. “We were trying to get into a defense and he was very slow to get into it a couple times. When we took him out, he didn’t seem like he was eager to get back in, so I didn’t make a big deal out of it.”
Davis, held scoreless for the first time since transferring to JMU from Wyoming before last season, played the opening eight minutes and then sat the rest of the first half. He started again in the second half, but was pulled after three minutes and never returned.
“Just Coach’s decision,” Davis said, when asked if he was aware of the reason for his benching. “I’m not sure.”
The 6-foot-6 swingman sat near the end of the bench in his shooting shirt next to redshirting freshman Dimitrije Cabarkapa — not enthusiastic but also not sulking.
Did Brady need Davis to tap him on the shoulder or demand to be reinserted? No, Brady said.
“I can tell when guys want back in,” Brady said. “There wasn’t a time he wanted back in.”
Was it poor body language?
“His body language wasn’t terrible,” Brady said. “But I didn’t get, and my staff didn’t get a sense that he was gonna go back in.”
Asked if he was surprised that he wasn’t reinserted, especially because the Dukes clearly needed an offensive boost, Davis took a conciliatory stance.
“It’s Coach’s decision of who he puts in there, so I just got to wait for my number to be called,” Davis said. “We all a team, we all want to get the win at the end of the day.”
The Dukes (1-3) clearly need Davis this season if they are to compete in the Colonial. The Columbus, Ohio, native averaged 15.9 points per game as a junior in his first season after transferring. But he and Brady often butted heads last year, usually over Davis’ shot selection or defensive intensity.
On Wednesday, Davis did not attempt a shot throughout the first half. On JMU’s first possession of the second half he quickly fired up a long, errant 3-pointer. To Brady, that moment might have triggered his memories of “E.J. Davis.”
Brady lauded Davis in the preseason, saying that the fifth-year senior greatly matured and bought into the Dukes’ philosophy. He even joked that Davis had an evil twin — E.J. Davis — who appeared from time to time last year, but seemed to be eradicated heading into this season.
“E.J. Davis has not shown up on campus this year and the real A.J. Davis has been on campus every day,” Brady said earlier this month. “I’m happy to give credit to A.J. Davis.
“No. 1: He’s kept his brother at home in Columbus, and No. 2: He’s practiced really hard, he’s practiced really well. I can tell you that I had sleepless nights last year, at this time, for the first time, really, in my college [coaching] career — worrying about guys buying in. Last year, I had this concern, as it turned out, I think my sleepless nights were warranted. [This year,] A.J. has been a true senior. He’s bought in. I don’t know exactly why. … I don’t really know; I’m just glad that this young guy has grown up.”
Brady, obviously, wasn’t that high on Davis Wednesday on the final day of the Progressive Legends Classic’s Pittsburgh sub-regional, which was played this week at Duquesne’s Palumbo Center.
Davis, when asked Wednesday about his supposed attitude adjustment this season, said he was more focused on the team. And appropriately, all his responses about Wednesday’s situation were the opposite of me-first. He said he was not frustrated by the lack of playing time.
“No, I’m good. I’m good,” he said. “It’s a long season, just got to get better. Got to go back to the drawing boards and do what we do best.”
JMU has three talented freshman guards in Charles Cooke, Ron Curry and Andre Nation, who are all earning big minutes because of their precocious play early this year. But it’s a surprise that their playing time is coming at the expense of Davis, who is capable of dominating a game when fully invested.
While Nation led JMU with 10 points against NDSU (5-1), none of those freshmen are capable of putting the offense on their back like Davis can when there’s wholesale struggling.
“Of course, we would have wanted him out there, but at that time, he wasn’t in,” said Devon Moore, JMU’s senior point guard and also Davis’ cousin. “We would have definitely been able to use him out there with his ability to score and get to the rim.”
Even before Wednesday, Davis’ offensive numbers had taken a bit of a hit this season. Now, through four games, he’s averaging just seven points on 32.3 percent shooting.
Brady is concerned that a missed shot or two by Davis affects the player’s energy level on the defensive end of the court.
“Teams are going to come in with good game plans; [North Dakota State]didn’t let him get going,” Brady said. “Many times he drove, just like against Duquesne, there are guys right in the middle of the lane. He’s got to be able to kick the ball out. He’s willing to do it, but he can’t let [offensive struggles] to affect him on the other end. He can do that. And if he can do that, then he’s a big part of our team. If one end’s production is going to impact the other end’s energy, then he’s got an issue.”
N. DAKOTA ST.
Wright 4-8 4-4 12, Bjorklund 4-4 0-0 8, Alexander 3-7 1-3 8, Brown 3-6 0-0 7, Braun 6-10 4-5 19, Newell 0-0 0-0 0, Felt 3-8 0-0 9, Zastrow 0-0 0-0 0, VandenBergh 0-0 0-0 0, Kading 1-2 1-1 3. Totals 24-45 10-13 66.
Diouf 3-8 0-0 6, Goins 2-10 1-3 5, Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Curry 2-6 2-2 6, Moore 2-7 3-5 7, Cooke 1-3 2-3 4, Nation 2-7 4-4 10, Bessick 3-3 0-0 6, Swindle 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-46 12-17 44.
Halftime—N. Dakota St. 34-24. 3-Point Goals—N. Dakota St. 8-18 (Braun 3-5, Felt 3-6, Brown 1-2, Alexander 1-3, Wright 0-2), James Madison 2-9 (Nation 2-4, Moore 0-1, Goins 0-1, Curry 0-1, Davis 0-1, Diouf 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—N. Dakota St. 32 (Braun 7), James Madison 27 (Diouf 8). Assists—N. Dakota St. 15 (Braun 6), James Madison 8 (Moore 3). Total Fouls—N. Dakota St. 12, James Madison 13. A—NA.