HARRISONBURG – Facing the prospect of a monumental second-half meltdown Monday night, the James Madison basketball team turned to Ron Curry to stem the tide. Having already turned in highlight-reel plays in front of a crowd of 3,160 at the Convocation Center, the sophomore point guard was more than up to the challenge.
Curry put the finishing touches on a 20-point, six-assist performance by delivering a key three-point play with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left in regulation and JMU survived an 18-0 second-half Hofstra run to prevail 59-53.
The Dukes, who snapped a three-game losing skid and moved into a seventh-place tie with the Pride (8-18 overall, 4-7 in the CAA) in the conference standings, took a two-possession lead for good when Curry sank a pair of free throws with 28.4 seconds remaining.
“Ron Curry’s a very talented young fella, and I think he’s becoming much more comfortable with his role as the leader of the team and playing point guard at this level,” JMU coach Matt Brady said in the wake of Curry’s second 20-point performance this season. “I think it took him a while, even this season, to figure out you have to bring it every single day.”
With Madison (9-16, 4-7) clinging to a 51-49 advantage, Curry beat Hofstra star guard Zeke Upshaw off the dribble on a clear-out play from the top of the key and banked home the game’s biggest basket while also drawing a foul.
Earlier, it was Curry’s creative passing that helped JMU build a 17-point advantage. He connected with Andre Nation – who came off the bench in his return from a personal leave — to set up three separate dunks and wowed the home crowd when he hit Taylor Bessick in stride with a no-look bounce pass that culminated in a two-handed slam to put the Dukes up 40-26.
“There was a lot of excitement, for real,” said sophomore Charles Cooke, who had 15 points and eight rebounds to join Curry and Nation (13) as JMU’s double-digit scorers. “We had the idea and plan to just come out and push the ball and attack. … That’s when we play our best basketball, not just as a team but individually. That’s Ron’s game, that’s Dre’s game, that’s my game.”
Curry was critical of his own play following Saturday’s loss at Drexel, a game in which the 6-foot-4 sophomore failed to record an assist for just the second time this season.
“When we get out in transition, we’re a fun team,” Curry said. “That’s something everybody on the team is good at. So that’s what we just try to do, try to get out in transition. And that’s when you see those lobs and those no-look passes. We just out there having fun.”
A pair of eight-minute-plus field-goal droughts, though, managed to make things considerably less enjoyable for JMU down the stretch.
After Madison took its biggest lead of the night at 46-29 at the 14-minute mark of the second half, the Dukes went scoreless for the next 8:01. During that span, one that covered the entirety of Hofstra’s 18-0 run, JMU went 0-for-7 from the field and committed six turnovers.
“We’re obviously pleased with the win, the rapid momentum swings in the second half not withstanding,” said Brady, whose team endured an eight-minute-plus field-goal drought in the first half. “That was not pleasant from where I sat, to sit through having a double-digit lead evaporate as quickly as it did. But I thought our kids showed some toughness and some togetherness to stick through a difficult period where we didn’t play very well.”
Curry, fittingly, was the player to get Madison back on track, ending the Pride’s spurt with a drive to the basket as JMU retook a 48-47 lead at the 5:59 mark. Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich was not surprised by Cooke’s outburst given he coached Charron Fisher, the Pennsauken, N.J., native’s cousin, in his previous stint at Niagara. As a senior in the 2007-08 season, Fisher averaged a nation-best 27.6 points per game while leading the Purple Eagles to 19 wins.
“You can’t turn the ball over, and if you do, you better get back,” said Mihalich, whose team was outscored 36-14 in the paint. “They do a really good job of turning you over and they get out in the open floor and just… A couple times I turned away because I knew somebody was going to dunk the ball.”
For the second straight game, freshman guard Jackson Kent started in place of Nation, who didn’t travel with the team for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia.
By the time Nation did take the court on Monday at the 15:22 mark of the first half, JMU had surged out to a 10-2 lead.
While Brady was non-committal when asked if Nation would return to the starting lineup for Wednesday’s game at Delaware, the sixth-year coach said Nation’s conspicuous absence to start the game was not for disciplinary reasons.
“We give him a checklist of things to do, and he needs to just make sure he’s getting it done. There’s nothing punitive about this,” Brady said. “It’s just, ‘Look, let’s make sure you’re handling your business in all respects.’ We’re trying to mentor him – my whole staff is and I – about making sure you take care of business, and that’s all that it is.
“There’s nothing wrong going on with this young guy, and I don’t want to beat it into the ground, but we’re trying to make sure he graduates college and that he takes all of his responsibilities seriously. He’s a terrific person. He’s a talented kid. He’s a very good teammate, and we wanna make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure we safeguard him getting his college degree.”
Nation said he did not feel slighted by being left out of the starting lineup.
“I didn’t take it as a punishment, man," he said. "I mean, it was just something coach Brady wanted to do. I mean, if he felt that was best for the team, then that was best for the team. It’s not a punishment; I wasn’t suspended for a punishment. Like I said, we just came to an agreement, made that decision, so I mean nothing’s a punishment because I got to play tonight.”
Allen 2-7 3-4 7, Upshaw 4-10 4-5 15, Kone 2-4 0-0 4, Nesmith 3-18 2-2 10, Robinson 3-8 3-4 10, Jenkins 1-5 2-2 5, Payen 0-1 0-0 0, Nwaukoni 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 16-55 14-17 53.
JAMES MADISON (9-16)
Semenov 2-9 4-4 8, Bessick 1-3 0-0 2, Curry 7-12 6-6 20, Cooke 5-12 5-7 15, Kent 0-1 0-0 0, Vodanovich 0-0 0-1 0, Nation 6-10 1-2 13, Dalembert 0-1 1-2 1, Lukic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-48 17-22 59.
Halftime—James Madison 34-24. 3-Point Goals—Hofstra 7-21 (Upshaw 3-6, Nesmith 2-8, Robinson 1-2, Jenkins 1-5), James Madison 0-11 (Nation 0-1, Curry 0-2, Cooke 0-3, Semenov 0-5). Fouled Out—Allen. Rebounds—Hofstra 35 (Nesmith, Robinson 6), James Madison 35 (Cooke 8). Assists—Hofstra 9 (Nesmith 5), James Madison 9 (Curry 6). Total Fouls—Hofstra 17, James Madison 14. A—3,160.