Dukes Still Ailing

‘Revenge Game’ For Winthrop

Posted: November 27, 2013

HARRISONBURG — James Madison basketball coach Matt Brady called today’s matchup a “revenge game” for host Winthrop, but a lot has changed since these two teams last met in the Convocation Center on Dec. 1 last year.

Then-senior A.J. Davis was unavailable that day because Brady had suspended him, but Andrey Semenov returned from an injury to help the Dukes to a 71-61 win over the low-powered Eagles.

When the teams play again tonight in Rock Hill, S.C., Davis and other key Dukes will again be inactive (this time because they graduated) and Semenov said Tuesday he will not suit up because of a foot injury. Fellow injured starter Ron Curry, meanwhile, practiced with the Dukes on Tuesday and is questionable for the game.

The Dukes may need him because Winthrop has revamped itself into a fast-paced offensive juggernaut averaging 83.6 points through five games.

“The biggest difference from last year is our depth,” said second year coach Pat Kelsey, whose Eagles have started 4-1, including a win over USC Upstate — the team that beat Virginia Tech in the Hokies’ opener. “We didn’t go very deep last year, didn’t play many guys. This year we have that luxury. Our style of play is a little bit different, too. We play with more pace. Kind of out of necessity last year, we had to limit possessions and play at a slower pace.”

Combo guard Andre Smith, who scored a game-high 26 points last December at JMU, is Winthrop’s leading scorer thus far, averaging 14.4 points per game. Freshman point guard Keon Johnson is averaging 14 a game while senior forward Joab Jerome is adding 13. The three players have shot a combined 38-for-71 from 3-point range, better than 53.5 percent.

“It’s a team that’s scoring the ball,” Brady said. … They have a couple of small, quick guards that can make baskets a lot of ways. Their 4s and 5s don’t score the ball an awful lot — they’re primarily led in scoring by guards, so we’re hopeful that in some respects the zone will slow them down and keep them a little further from the rim. We certainly have to make some adjustments.

“They’re an energetic group, they’re fast, they’re quick, they shoot the ball from long-range and they have really good guards. It’s a challenging game and it’s a revenge game for them because we did beat them [in Harrisonburg] last year.”

JMU’s win over Winthrop last year snapped a three-game losing skid. The Dukes have lost two straight heading into today, and the last loss was a bad one.

Valparaiso throttled the short-handed Dukes 81-49 on Saturday for the biggest blowout of Madison since the 2008-09 season. JMU (2-4) was playing last weekend without both Semenov and Curry.

“Erase it out of your mind, man,” sophomore Charles Cooke, who scored 14 against Valpo, said about the Dukes’ mindset heading into today’s game at the 6,100-seat Winthrop Coliseum. “Just forget all about it. I always think to myself: Bad games or good games, I always forget about it. Even if I had a 40-point game I still forget about it, just to move on to the next. We lost, we moving on to the next game. Us thinking about it isn’t going to help us.”

This will be JMU’s second game of eight straight on the road, and the losing could come in a torrent.

“It’s my responsibility, quite frankly, to make sure this group doesn’t lose confidence,” Brady said. “It’s inevitable that if you lose more than you win, you’re not going to be the most confident team. But we just have to fight and compete a lot harder. There’s a lot of things we have to do better. … I don’t think we’ve played fluidly offensively, either.”

Madison has to be happy to have the horizon in its rearview. The loss to Valparaiso was the Dukes’ third in as many games against Horizon League teams.

Winthrop was picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the South Division of the Big South, but even though two of its early wins are against NAIA and Division III teams, the Eagles have shown potential under the fiery Kelsey, a disciple of the late Skip Prosser.

The early success has come without starting guard Derrick Henry, out until some time this winter after ACL surgery last March. While Winthrop is offensively making up for the 11-plus points Henry averaged last year, it’s also competing defensively.

“What’s our identity, what’s our culture, what’s our core, what do we hang our hat on?” Kelsey said. “Being a tough, nasty, defensive-minded team.”

Winthrop is allowing 73.6 points per game. JMU is averaging just 60.3 points.