HARRISONBURG — Andrey Semenov expected to experience moments like these when he found out last April he’d be returning for a sixth year with the James Madison basketball team.
And while clutch performances like the one Semenov produced against Northeastern on Wednesday have been scarce this season, the 6-foot-7 stretch forward is just thankful his teammates continue to look his way in crunch time.
Semenov repaid that trust in a big way at Matthews Arena in Boston, delivering a pair of tiebreaking three-point scoring efforts in the final minutes to help Madison outlast the Huskies, 49-46.
“That confidence, it really comes from within. I’ll be the first one to tell you I don’t always have it,” Semenov said Thursday. “But [Wednesday] night, I had confidence that if I kept on shooting, I would make shots and I would help my team win.”
After missing seven of his first eight shots from the field on Wednesday, Semenov – with JMU and Northeastern deadlocked at 41-all – ended a 6-0 Huskies run by converting an acrobatic drive to the basket as part of a three-point play with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left in regulation.
Two possessions later, Semenov gave the Dukes (8-13 overall, 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association) the lead for good at the 3:10 mark when he sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key off a pick-and-roll pass from Ron Curry.
Madison survived Demetrius Pollard’s potential overtime-forcing 3-point attempt at the buzzer to improve to 5-1 in games in which it has allow 60 points or fewer. As much as Semenov’s late baskets had to do with the victory, it was his defensive energy that earned the most praise from JMU coach Matt Brady on Thursday.
“That’s Andrey’s best game defensively that he’s had in a long time, going back to November,” Brady said. “He was so active defensively, very competitive. And beyond making shots, I thought he played with a lot of energy and the kind of toughness we’ve all come to expect from Semenov. … I thought that was more typical of his performances from years past, and that’s kind of what we need from Andrey. He’s gone through a technical change in his shot, and he’s finding his way through it.”
Semenov’s current 38.2 field-goal percentage (63-for-165) is his worst in a season since his injury-shortened 2009-10 campaign. He admits his play up to this point has been below his own personal standards.
“It’s not that I don’t get shots; it’s just that I don’t make the ones I should be making,” Semenov said. “Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it. If a shot doesn’t fall, it may not fall for the whole year. Those things happen. You just can’t lose confidence in it. I don’t know when it will come back to me, but it eventually will because I believe in it.”
So does Charles Cooke.
“I don’t care if he misses 10 straight,” Cooke said of Semenov. “I’m still going to feed him the ball because I know the next couple, he’s going to knock down. So we still have confidence in him to make shots, and he will. All we need is his play-making ability.”
Cooke’s play was the other key story-line in Wednesday’s game. He returned from a high-ankle sprain to log 33 minutes off the bench, contributing eight points, five rebounds and four steals all while appearing to move well on the court. Cooke acknowledged Thursday that his right ankle was “pretty sore” but said he fully expects to play in Sunday afternoon’s game against William & Mary (12-8, 4-3) at the Convocation Center.
“It was probably more minutes than I wanted to play him, but he made some plays defensively,” Brady said. “He had four steals and he was active and I thought he took good shots. He’s certainly paid attention really good in practice, he paid attention to the game-plan and he was very purposeful in helping us execute what we needed to do to win.”
Semenov, whose own injury struggles have been well chronicled, was also impressed by how quickly Cooke settled into the flow of the game.
“The first game back from an injury, it’s a little rough. But give him credit: He didn’t seem to have much rust,” Semenov said. “He turned the ball over a couple times, but it wasn’t a big deal, especially because we won. He made a few buckets and he played as good of defense as he always plays, so I think next game he’ll be even better.”
Cooke got some much-needed rest on Thursday with JMU not practicing because of its recent extended travel schedule.
The Dukes, who have now avenged early-season league losses to both College of Charleston and Northeastern, will try on Sunday to improve to 3-0 in “payback” games this season. William & Mary buried 10 of 20 3-point attempts in a 78-56 win over JMU on Jan. 18.