Two Days Later ...
Another Tough Game For Dukes
Posted: February 12, 2013
HARRISONBURG — For those who are unsure if the James Madison basketball team is a legitimate contender to win the Colonial Athletic Association this year, the answer could come shortly.
In the next eight days, fourth-place JMU (14-12 overall, 8-5 in the CAA) will play the three teams currently ahead of it in the conference standings. Showing selective myopia, coach Matt Brady said he wasn’t aware as of Monday afternoon who was even on the schedule beyond today, when his Dukes will host second-place Towson — the league’s hottest team — at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.
“I think this is the one team that has answers at all five positions on the court,” Brady said of the Tigers, who have won four straight. “They can score and they bring guys off the bench that can score. And they have frontcourt guys who can block shots at the rim.”
JMU assistant coach Mike Deane, who was in charge of scouting Towson, said Monday that the Tigers (14-12, 9-4) have the best “starting six” in the league, after you factor in emerging reserve guard Rafriel Guthrie.
Guthrie, a junior college transfer, has tallied 14 or more points in four of his last six games, including a career-high 23 in Towson’s 90-82 overtime win at Georgia State on Saturday. He was one of five players to reach double figures when the Tigers demolished the Dukes 73-47 in Maryland last month.
“His numbers have been tremendous recently; now he’s making some 3s,” Brady said. “He’s a hard-charging guy and an energetic offensive player.”
Of course, talk of Towson typically starts with Jerelle Benimon, the 6-foot-8, 245-pounder who transferred from Georgetown and has become the favorite for CAA Player of the Year in his first season in the league. Limited by first-half foul trouble, Benimon still finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds against Madison last month. Versatile as a swingman but built like a bruising power forward, Benimon is averaging 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds this season, and has notched a double-double in 17 of 26 games.
The Dukes, who play at third-place Delaware on Sunday and at first-place Northeastern the following Wednesday, could certainly use a win at home, where they are 9-3 this year.
“Looking forward to the challenge,” power forward Rayshawn Goins said of playing Towson. “This is a tough league — anybody can beat anybody on any given day. That’s a must-win game. We need that. We’re a great home team.”
The Drexel game was also on television, which is why it was played on Sunday rather than Saturday. And with this TV game today instead of a typical Wednesday, the Dukes had a light two-hour practice Monday afternoon, 11 hours after arriving back in Harrisonburg at around 3 a.m.
“I can’t control it. I’m not going to worry about it,” Brady said of the compacted schedule “… But it’s a valid point. For us to play on Sunday, and for us to play on Tuesday, in a big game on TV, it seems crazy and ludicrous. But I’m just a coach, so I don’t deal with it.”
Towson’s turnaround from a dismal 1-31 season last year is well-documented. Currently, the Tigers’ record is 16 games better than last year. Prior to this season, the largest improvement in Division I history was by Mercer in 2003. That team flipped its record from 6-23 to 23-6. This year’s team at Bryant, which plays in the Northeast Conference, is in the midst of an 18-game improvement.
The Tigers, in their second year under coach Pat Skerry, have infused several transfers into the program to boost the talent level. But its lone home-grown starter, freshman Jerome Hairston, is also performing well. Named CAA Rookie of the Week on Monday, Hairston has scored 18, 17 and 17 points in his last three games, and is third on the team with a 9.8 points-per-game average.
Also clicking for Towson is team rebounding. During their four-game win streak, the Tigers have won the battle of the boards each game and 176-129 total.
The Tigers are big, strong and physical, and don’t allow teams to score easy baskets. Towson holds teams to the lowest 2-point field-goal percentage in the league, and the 42 percent it yields for the season is 19th best in the country. Towson’s defense can be susceptible to 3-point shooting. though — not that the inconsistent-shooting Dukes are going to rely on making a bunch from the outside.
“You have to have balance,” Brady said. “We’re not going into any game thinking we can make seven, eight, nine 3s.”
JMU shot a season-low 25 percent from the field in the first meeting, and hit just four of 19 3-pointers. The Dukes struggled shooting again on the road Sunday at Drexel, where they scored 12 first-half points in a 60-48 loss.
NOTE: Senior forward Andrey Semenov, who has been inactive since tearing ligaments in his left ankle on Jan. 2, had his cast removed Monday and likely will not require surgery, the team said. Previously on crutches, Semenov was in a walking boot on Monday. He will stay in the boot for two weeks before his ankle is re-evaluated. The Dukes still hope Semenov, the team’s best shooter, can return before the CAA tournament in March.
Contact Mark Selig at 574-6288 or email@example.com