Five In A Row?
JMU Surges Into Mason Game
Posted: February 2, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Asked to rate the James Madison basketball team’s overall confidence level from 1-10 following its fourth consecutive win, senior Rayshawn Goins settled at 8 or 8½.
“We’re very confident. We hot, man,” the power forward said after scoring a game-high 16 points against Hofstra on Thursday. “Somewhere around an 8, 8 ½. I don’t want to say 9 – I don’t want to be too cocky. There’s a difference between cocky and confident. Like I said, we’re very confident, we’re getting very comfortable with each other, and we know who can do what at what times.”
How’s this for confidence? The Dukes (13-10 overall, 7-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association) are publicly discussing the possibility of running the table in the regular season, which would require eight more wins. While that might seem presumptuous, it doesn’t mean JMU is overlooking its next opponent – George Mason.
After beating JMU 68-57 in Fairfax on Jan. 15, the Patriots come to the Convocation Center for a 4 p.m. tip-off today in a rivalry game that the Dukes excitedly discussed this week.
“I mean this is huge for me,” Goins said. “I’ve never beaten Mason in my time here. I know this building is gonna be rocking on Saturday due to [the fact that] we just got four straight victories, and we just want to come out man with as much energy as possible and just step on them. Because I’ve never beaten them, and it’s got to happen before I leave. And who’s to say we’re going to play them in the tournament? So it’s gotta happen [today].”
Good news for the Dukes: Point guard Devon Moore, who left Thursday’s game with what turned out to be only a slightly sprained left ankle, was back on his feet practicing Friday and will play in today’s contest, which will be televised by Comcast SportsNet. Mason has defeated JMU eight straight times since Moore helped the Dukes prevail 68-66 during his freshman season in 2009, and the fifth-year senior said “it’s a great feeling” to get the chance to do it again.
Overall, JMU has lost 19 of its last 20 games against the Patriots (12-9, 5-4). But it is by far the hotter team heading into this evening. The Dukes have a chance to extend their winning streak to a season-long five games and can notch their seventh straight home win. Mason, meanwhile has lost two straight. League-leading Northeastern smacked the Pats 71-51 in Boston on Sunday, and then GMU blew a 20-point lead at home against Drexel on Thursday.
“They played harder than us, especially on the boards at the end,” Mason coach Paul Hewitt said after the loss to Drexel, which sunk his team to sixth place in the weak CAA. “We have to address that issue, getting a big rebound at the end of a game. Especially when we have leads and we’re playing from ahead. We can’t allow people to just be more physical and want the ball.”
George Mason outrebounded JMU 44-25 when the teams last met, but the Patriots lost the battle of the glass in the next four games, including by a 37-22 margin against Drexel.
The Dukes, who have adopted a gang-rebounding approach in which the guards’ contributions are significant, have outrebounded teams by a plus-51 margin in their last four games. They’ve allowed a minuscule average of 48.3 points in that span.
“We’re better defensively – there’s no doubt about that,” coach Matt Brady said when comparing his team now to 17 days ago when it last battled Mason. “But we are a team that still hasn’t hit our stride offensively. … This offensive performance [we had against Hofstra] won’t be good enough on Saturday.”
The teams are each averaging 64.4 points per game this season.
If momentum carries any weight, JMU would seem to have an advantage. While the Dukes were flying high after their win on Thursday, the Patriots were searching for answers. When a reporter asked Sherrod Wright how hard it is to bounce back from a loss like the one Mason had just suffered, the junior guard wasn’t rosy.
“It’s very difficult,” Wright said. “We’ve got to come together as a team, make sure we practice hard [Friday], and get ready for the next game. That’s all we can do.”
Wright has led Mason in scoring 16 out of 21 games, including on Jan. 15, when he paced the Patriots with 23 points against JMU. He will be the obvious point of emphasis for the Dukes’ improved defense.
The team’s second-leading scorer, junior power forward Johnny Williams, is questionable after missing Thursday’s game with a concussion. Williams scored nine points in 34 minutes against the Dukes last month.
JMU has endured its own set of injuries, but appears to have settled into an effective rotation heading into its biggest game of the year…if that’s the way you want to bill this one.
“I think that every game: This is the biggest game, this is the biggest game,” Brady said. “… But for coaches, I would say to you, unless it’s the CAA tournament, no game is something that you can’t come back from. So whether you win or you lose, you have another game on your schedule.
“…Hopefully we’ll play our best game of the year. That’s what I would hope. But if we don’t, hopefully we’ll play our guttiest game of the year.”