JMU Wins In OT
‘Ready To Fight’ Dukes Top Drexel
HARRISONBURG — With the final seconds of overtime winding down Wednesday night at the Convocation Center, James Madison point guard Ron Curry and fellow sophomore Andre Nation found the time to squeeze in a quick chat.
As Nation brought the ball up court with his team deadlocked with Drexel, Curry looked to his close friend and roommate and asked the question on the mind of all 3,011 people in attendance: Do you want to take the final shot?
“No,” Nation said to Curry. “This is what you do.”
Curry proceeded to gather a pass from Nation, drive to the top of the key and sink a step-back, tiebreaking 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds remaining, and Madison secured a thrilling 63-61 win.
With the victory, the Dukes (11-17 overall, 6-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association) moved to within a half-game of Drexel (14-12, 6-7) , College of Charleston (14-14, 6-7) and Northeastern (9-18, 6-7) in the race for the coveted No. 4 seed at next month’s conference tournament in Baltimore.
“I got all the confidence in the world in Ron,” Nation said, “so whenever it comes down to a situation like that, I’m going to always put the ball in his hands. That’s just because I got faith in him, so if he does [miss], I’m gonna feel like it’s my fault.
“I put that pressure on him, and I chose to not take that final shot. To me, he’s our go-to guy at the end of the game, and he’s always going to have the ball if it’s up to me.”
Sixth-year senior Chris Fouch had drawn the Dragons even at 58-all with a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds to go in overtime, but JMU coach Matt Brady opted against calling a timeout and instead let Nation and Curry create.
With eight seconds remaining on the shot clock, Nation — in mid-air — passed back to Curry deep beyond the left wing. The sophomore point guard then drove into the face of Drexel star Frantz Massenat before pulling back and canning the game’s deciding basket.
Nation intercepted Dartaye Ruffin’s ensuing inbounds pass and knocked down a pair of free throws to seal the win.
“He backed up and kind of dared me to shoot,” said Curry, who finished with a game-best 18 points, “and that’s kind of the other thing I could do, really.”
Said Massenat: “I wanted him to take the shot, and [to] contest it at the same time. I did both. He just made a tough shot.”
Drexel, a veteran squad that entered play 3-0 in overtime games this season, forced the extra session when Massenat drove down the lane to set up Rodney Williams’ tying dunk with six seconds left in regulation.
Nation was defending Massenat on the play, but fell down when he and freshman teammate Tom Vodanovich — attempting to hedge out on a screen — collided beyond the arc.
“Really, even in overtime, I felt like we had a good chance to win that game because I saw it in their body [language]: They were ready to fight,” Brady said. “If it took longer, it took longer. But our guys were ready to fight.”
In trailing 23-16 at the intermission, JMU went 5-for-28 from the field to register a season-worst 17.9 first-half field-goal percentage. The Dukes scored fewer first-half points (14) only in their season-opening loss to Virginia. And Wednesday’s seven-point deficit came despite holding Fouch and Massenat, Drexel’s two standout guards, to a combined two points on 1-for-13 shooting.
But Madison opened the second half by hitting six of its first seven shots from the field, building a 33-28 advantage when a diving Vodanovich came up with a steal near midcourt to set up an uncontested Nation dunk.
Taylor Bessick had an opportunity to take back his starting job with forward Yohanny Dalembert relegated to the bench because of an ankle injury suffered in practice, but it was Vodanovich who seized the moment.
He had 10 first-half rebounds off the bench, delivered a go-ahead basket with 3:10 left in regulation and tied the game at 54-all in overtime with another bucket at the 2:41 mark.
“Any time I get a chance, I’m going to take that and try to make the most of it,” said Vodanovich, whom Nation called his MVP. “Coach Brady said to me in the locker room, ‘You’re going to get 10 rebounds today,’ and I turned back and told him I was going to get 12.”
He finished with six points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes of action.
“The guy you should talk about is Vodanovich,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “He only made six points, but it was a big six. … Those were the things that killed us in the heat of the game.”
Nation sat out JMU’s 78-60 loss at Drexel on Feb. 8 due to personal reasons, and his presence on Wednesday was certainly felt on the defensive end.
Massenat and Fouch — averaging 17.9 and 18.0 points per game, respectively, entering the game — finished a combined 7-of-32 from the field, and that included Massenat’s meaningless 3-point make at the buzzer.
“I was just happy that we fought back this time,” Nation said. “There’s been a couple games where we got punched in the mouth and we didn’t punch back. So this game, I felt like we punched back [and] we punched back harder. It was just good to see that fight in the whole team.”