A Look Back: 1994
Culuko, Driesell Recall Shot That Sent JMU To NCAAs
Posted: March 20, 2013
HARRISONBURG — For most of the James Madison basketball team’s Colonial Athletic Association championship game on March 7, 1994, then-junior guard Kent Culuko, a well-regarded jump shooter for the Dukes, was blanketed by Old Dominion’s defense.
But when Madison went into a timeout with 1.1 seconds left and trailing by two at Richmond Coliseum, Culuko – who hadn’t scored since a 3-pointer on the first basket of the game – didn’t let the defense discourage him.
If anything, it angered Culuko into taking one of the most iconic shots in JMU history.
“They were face-guarding me, they weren’t giving me a lot of space, I couldn’t get my shot off, so I went in that huddle, and I said, ‘You know what? Get me the damn ball,’” Culuko, who has been working as a professional basketball instructor full-time for the last decade, recalled by phone from his home in Pequannock, N.J., recently. “‘I’m gonna make this shot. Give me the ball.’”
After the timeout, Culuko ran to the corner behind a wall of screeners, and hit the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner to lift Madison to a 77-76 victory and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament – the last time the Dukes appeared in the national event until today, when they’ll open this year’s tournament against Long Island Brooklyn.
Culuko’s shot came during Lefty Driesell’s stint as coach – but it wasn’t Driesell’s idea.
In the Dukes’ last timeout, Driesell said he wanted to go for the tie. He called for a play designated by the number “1,” with the idea of trying for a 2-point bucket that would send the game to overtime.
But Driesell’s son — a JMU assistant coach — had other ideas.
“We had been working on this play for a while — it was one that my son, Chuck, drew up — called ‘The Picket Fence,’” Driesell, 81, said by phone from his home in Hampton Roads recently. “…I said to run ‘1,’ and [a player] said, ‘No, Coach, run Chuck’s play – Picket Fence.’ And so I said, ‘OK, run Picket Fence; we’ll go for the win.’
“…I don’t ever remember [another instance of] hitting a 3 with one second left and winning the game, whether it was regular season or tournament, or anything,” Driesell added, referring to his entire 54-year coaching career.
This year’s CAA title was achieved in far less dramatic fashion. The Dukes took control early and notched a convincing 70-57 win over Northeastern in the championship game last week, also at the Richmond Coliseum.
The mood at Madison was markedly different two decades ago than it was for most of this season.
In the early 1990s, Driesell’s program was on the rise. People might have grumbled about the lack of NCAA appearances, given Driesell’s stature, but the Dukes had gone to the NIT the previous four seasons after making just one NIT appearance and getting no NIT bids in the six years before that. JMU also had been knocking on the door for an automatic NCAA berth, reaching the Colonial tourney finals in 1990, ’92 and ’93 and winning four straight regular-season league titles from 1990-93.
“We had a good ballclub, had a good program,” Driesell said.
Brady, meanwhile, was coming off a dismal 12-20 season, including 5-13 in the CAA. Injuries to critical players factored into the 2011-12 record, but Brady was nevertheless on the hot seat entering the final season of a five-year contract. JMU administrators were looking for consistency, and Brady had alternated 21-win and 20-loss seasons in his first four years at Madison.
Still, there was a feeling that the Dukes (20-14 this season) were significantly better than they had been under Sherman Dillard and Dean Keener. And — with a weak, seven-team tournament and favorable officiating — Madison used some luck, some timely plays and some quality coaching to win the CAA tournament title.
“I was pulling for him [Brady] the other night,” said Driesell, noting that he doesn’t know Brady very well and that he hasn’t kept up much with Madison’s program. “I think it’s great that they won. In fact, I was going to write him a note – I still might – just congratulating him.
“I think he’s done a great job there.”