Loss Still Irks

Dukes Try To Beat Hampton

Posted: December 21, 2013

HARRISONBURG — When James Madison plays Hampton at the Richmond Coliseum today, the game will summon memories of both the Dukes’ highest and lowest moments from last season.

It’ll be Madison’s first time in the Coliseum since winning three games in as many days there last March — stamping a ticket to the NCAA Tournament with its first Colonial Athletic Association title in 19 years.

And it will be against the team that, two months earlier, handed the Dukes their most discomforting defeat. Hampton, at the time the nation’s penultimate team in RPI, erased an 11-point deficit to win 69-65 and drop the Dukes under .500 in early January.

“I thought that was one of the games, you look at your schedule and say we kind of kicked it and dropped the ball on that one,” JMU basketball coach Matt Brady said. “We had a [11]-point lead early in the first half and then we played one of the most uncharacteristic games of our season last year.”

Madison won its next two games, both in CAA play, and, of course, rallied in March to make that Hampton loss forgettable.

But falling to a struggling team on a cold night with 745 people in attendance (and with the rest of the sports-watching world tuning into the BCS national championship game) might have been a blessing for the previously cocky Dukes.

“I think that game last year kind of humbled us,” said sophomore guard Ron Curry, who scored five points in 32 minutes. “Even though we weren’t doing as good as we wanted to be at that time I felt like that game humbled us because we went into that game thinking we were going to win, that we’d just walk out there and win the game. That kind of knocked us off our horse, made us get refocused and fight back hard for the rest of the season.”

JMU (3-9) has no reason to enter today’s contest overconfident. The young Dukes have lost seven of their last eight games. While it appeared that an 84-69 win at High Point last weekend might trigger a turnaround, Madison lost Wednesday at North Carolina-Greensboro.

At least JMU will play in a neutral setting after eight of its first 12 have been true road games. The matchup with Hampton is part of the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m., and Virginia Tech-Virginia Commonwealth will follow at roughly 5:30.

Last time JMU played at the Richmond Coliseum, it dominated Northeastern in the CAA final.

“I think it will bring back some good memories,” senior forward Andrey Semenov said of returning to the state capital’s signature venue. “And some bad ones. I remember the first time we stepped on the Richmond Coliseum court, all I could think of was ‘early exits, early exits’ over the years. As soon as we won that first game last year, I was like, ‘We’ve got something going, actually.’ We all believed. But the early exit thing stayed in the back of my head.”

Semenov was not available for those conference tournament games because of an ankle injury that sidelined him from January on. He was hurt in a win at Old Dominion — Madison’s fourth straight victory — before the good times came crashing down. JMU lost big in its next game at Georgia State, and then in a rare non-conference game in January, suffered the Hampton shortfall.

“I left, so the whole game-plan changed from the way guys had to play,” Semenov said. “I was a very big part of the offense, not just in terms of shooting, but because of movement, and the guys had to learn to play without a stretch 4. It took two long, painful games for them to figure it out and Hampton was one of them. I’m sure this time will be different.”

The Pirates (5-6) are better than they were at this time last year. Their top three scorers from that JMU game have all returned, including point guard Deron Powers, who scored a game-best 19.

Senior forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell is leading HU with 14.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Powers is averaging 13 points and 4.5 assists.

Only four JMU players scored more than five points against Hampton last season — and all of them are unavailable today, including suspended guard Andre Nation, who must sit out three more games before he’s eligible to return on Jan. 7. JMU’s athletic department docked Nation 15 games for, what sources said, was a second failed drug test in October.

Nation was the most vocally upset after last year’s loss at Hampton, saying afterward, “You don’t want to lose to the worst team in Division I basketball. I don’t know, man. I’m shocked, I’m mad. All that at the same time.”

So shocking and maddening for the Dukes that the few returning players on their roster are bound to be revenge-minded this time.

“I think our guys remember losing that game — certainly our sophomores will remember that game,” Brady said.

As of Friday night, JMU was ranked 223rd and Hampton 290th among the 351 Division I basketball teams, according to ESPN’s RPI formula.

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