PHILADELPHIA -- The James Madison basketball team learned how to play without star guard Andre Nation for the first 15 games of the 2013-14 season.
The young Dukes could be forced to draw upon that experience going forward.
Nation did not travel with Madison for Saturday's game at Drexel, missing the 78-60 loss at the Daskalakis Athletic Center after taking a "personal leave of absence," according to JMU coach Matt Brady.
Brady said the decision was a mutual one and although no timetable for a return has been set, he hoped to have the 6-foot-5 sophomore back in the lineup for Monday's home game against Hofstra.
"He's working through some things," Brady said. "He's not the story today."
Nation was suspended for the first half of the season due to what sources said was a second failed drug, but Brady said there was no connection between that discipline and Nation's lack of availability during Madison's third straight Colonial Athletic Association loss.
When asked to elaborate on the reason behind Nation's absence following his postgame press conference, Brady refused to get into specifics but stated: "It was nothing related to the suspension. He's done nothing wrong."
Without Nation -- JMU's leading scorer and rebounder -- in the lineup, the Dukes (8-16 overall, 3-7 CAA) struggled mightily on the offensive end over the game's final 20 minutes.
Madison shot just 5 of 20 from the field in the second half while Dragons sixth-year senior guard Chris Fouch sank four 3-pointers on his own, pouring in 19 of his game-high 26 points. NBA hopeful Frantz Massenat (16 points) also reached double figures, and freshman forward Rodney Williams -- a Richmond native -- added his first career double-double to guide the Dragons (13-10, 5-5) to victory.
While sophomores Charles Cooke (18 points) and Ron Curry (17) produced strong efforts in a return to their nearby New Jersey high-school stomping grounds, JMU was out-rebounded 36-24 and dominated by a 34-16 scoring margin in the paint.
At one point, JMU missed 10 of 11 shots, a stretch which allowed Drexel to mount a 25-6 run bridging the first and second halves to take firm control of the game.
Massenat and Fouch combined for 19 points during the spurt.
"Hopefully as soon as possible," Curry said when asked about when he expects Nation to return. "I'm not sure. I know just as much as y'all, so hopefully (Nation will be back) as soon as possible."
"… Any time you lose one of the best players on the team and one of the best players in the conference, it's going to affect your team. Like I said, everybody just tried to step up and we didn't really get that done."
Sixth-year senior forward Andrey Semenov, whose first-half, three-point play gave JMU its biggest lead at 32-26, finished with 12 points and passed Devon Moore (124) for second-place on Madison's all-time games played list.
But the Dukes, who opened Saturday's game by hitting six of their first 10 3-point attempts, missed their final eight attempts from behind the arc and trailed by at least 11 points for the final 14 minutes, 42 seconds of regulation.
"I thought we played better defense in the second half; that was the bottom line," said Dragons coach Bruiser Flint, who felt his team's dribble-penetration defense was the key. "We did have 36 (points) at the half, so our offense wasn't bad at halftime. Our defense was bad.
"Chris does that though. He's a guy that gets it going that way. He got some great looks at it, and knocked 'em down. Him and Frantz have been playing at that level all year, though. So it doesn't surprise us. But I thought the key to the game was we were just much, much better defensively in the second half."
The Dukes logged just seven assists as a team, with Curry failing to tally in that category for only the second time this season.
"I just gotta do a better job of finding guys," he said. "There's no way I should go through a game without having an assist. I just got do a better job in terms of driving and kicking. … I gotta figure out a way to get a couple guys buckets."
Flint said he only realized Nation was not playing when he could not spot the flamboyant sophomore during warm-ups. The Dragons lost star guard Damion Lee to an ACL tear just five games into the season. Fellow starter Kazembe Abif was also ruled out for the year after fracturing his left hand in a freak accident during Thursday's practice.
Without Nation in the lineup, JMU is 6-10.
"He's a really good player," Flint said of Nation. "He makes a big difference for them. Believe me, I know what happens when you play without your best player. I've been doing it for a while now. But we didn't really change anything up; we still we're gonna do what we were gonna do."