Dukes Sputter Early In Games

Posted: November 24, 2012

HARRISONBURG — Through four games this year, the James Madison basketball team has been like 1990s dial-up internet: It typically takes the Dukes 20 minutes to get going.


In their last game, a 66-44 loss to North Dakota State, the full 40 minutes went by and JMU still never found a connection.


When Madison (1-3) takes on Miami of Ohio today at noon in Oxford, Ohio, the Dukes will put a heavy emphasis on starting quicker.


“Coming out slow and flat, we’re trying to play a whole game,” point guard Devon Moore said. “Just keep competing and keep getting into a flow of playing a complete 40-minute game.”


The Dukes have yet to lead at the half. Their average deficit when walking into the locker room for the 15-minute break is 14.5 points.


That figure is a bit skewed by a 34-point margin at UCLA in the season opener, but the 8.3-point average deficit in the other three games is still a large hole to dig oneself over and over again. The problem has been mostly offensive – the Dukes are averaging just 28.5 points per first half.


This isn’t a new issue. Last season, the Dukes scored exactly 1,000 points in the first halves of their 32 games, an average of just 31.3 points. They averaged 34.2 points in second halves last year. The difference the prior year was even more drastic: 31.9 points in the first half, 39.2 in the second half.


Before Wednesday’s listless loss to NDSU, Madison had outscored its opponents in each second half this season. Why the difference from period to period?


“I wish I could answer that question,” Moore said.


The Dukes, who played three games in three days in Pittsburgh this week as part of a preseason event, stayed in the city for Thanksgiving and practiced there Friday morning before taking a bus to Ohio in the afternoon. JMU hasn’t spent much time in Harrisonburg since leaving last week for their season-opener at UCLA on Nov. 15, but will be home for five straight games after today’s road tilt at 6,400-seat Millett Hall.


It’s tough to examine trends or tendencies of Miami (2-2), given the variance of the Red Hawks’ opponents thus far. First-year coach John Cooper has led his team to wins over Grambling State and William & Mary. Meanwhile, the Red Hawks have lost big against then-No. 6 North Carolina State and No. 2 Louisville.

Even Cooper, who coached at Tennessee State last year – the lone team to beat Murray State in the regular season – said he still isn’t fully sure of what he has.

“I really didn’t have a feel for our team and who we were,” Cooper said. “We played two really good teams and a Grambling team we were better than. … I’ve got a lot of discovering going on, man.”


The latest thing Cooper discovered, he said, was that his team could pull out a tough road win. Miami was throttled 80-39 on Sunday at Louisville – a 2012 Final Four participant — but recovered with a 72-59 victory over W&M, previously the only unbeaten Colonial Athletic Association team.


The Red Hawks have two players, both redshirt juniors, averaging double figures in scoring. Guard Allen Roberts, who sat out all of last season with a knee injury, leads the team with 13.5 points per game, including 20 against W&M. Junior forward Bill Edwards, in his second season with the Red Hawks after transferring from Penn State, is scoring 10.8 per game.


While JMU, which has no player taller than 6-foot-6 in its starting lineup, is considered small, Miami is even smaller. The Madison starters’ average height is 6-5, while Miami’s is just 6-3½. The Red Hawks are losing the rebounding battle by an average of six boards per game.


The Dukes are minus-three per game on the glass, and senior forward Rayshawn Goins said that “boxing out” is the top priority of things they need to fix.


Some of the rebounding numbers can be chalked up to JMU shooting just 42 percent from the floor compared to opponents’ sky-high 53-percent clip (it’s typically easier to rebound on the defensive end, and there just aren’t as many missed shots by opponents as there are by the Dukes).


JMU needs to solve its inconsistent and stagnant offense. Versatile forward Andrey Semenov, who’s missed all but two minutes with a groin injury, likely won’t be active again today, coach Matt Brady said.


The more intriguing question might be how much another sixth-year senior plays. A.J. Davis, who led the Dukes with 15.6 points per game last season but has struggled so far this year, logged just 11 minutes in JMU’s last game, because, Brady said, the swingman to get into defensive sets and then showed no will to re-enter the game when benched.


Brady mentioned in the preseason that his team is now deep enough for him to send a message through playing time.


Freshmen guards Charles Cooke, Ron Curry and Andre Nation have all contributed, while rookie forward Taylor Bessick came on with productive minutes on Wednesday – but the boost from youngsters hasn’t been enough.


“We’re trying to learn our team,” Brady said. “That’s why we made a challenging schedule. We’re trying to figure out who we are and what we can do, and what our strengths and weaknesses are … We found out, clearly, that the freshmen, including Taylor, they can play.”


Now the Dukes need to play from the opening tip – something they haven’t yet done in 2012-13.