The competition is about to get much stiffer for James Madison but on Wednesday afternoon at the Atlantic Union Bank Center in Harrisonburg, the Dukes showed coach Sean O’Regan a little more of what he’s been looking for.
JMU controlled the glass and distributed the ball over the course of a 77-54 victory against North Carolina Central. Despite a third-quarter lull, the Dukes used 16 offensive rebounds to help build a big lead early.
“Rebounding and sharing the ball were the two things we really, really focused on,” O’Regan said. “It’s hard because it’s not like we had a week of practice. I think when you shoot bad shots or shoot quick shots you’re not in rebounding position. Those were our two focal points and I think we have a lot more work to do in that aspect. But I’d rather learn and win than learn and lose.”
In total, JMU out-rebounded the visitors 45-29.
Kiki Jefferson had a team-high 23 points, including 9-for-11 at the free throw line to lead JMU (3-2), which had four players in double figures. Jamia Hazell added 15 points and Madison Green 10 for the Dukes. Down low, Anna Goodman had 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks while Jaylin Carodine finished with eight points and a career-high 15 boards.
Diamond Thomas finished with 18 points and Necole Hope had 17 for NC Central (0-5), which has started the season with five consecutive road games.
JMU raced out to a 10-0 lead, but NC Central’s Diamond Thomas kept it from getting completely out of control in the opening minutes, scoring the Eagles’ first seven points. Still, the Dukes enjoyed solid starts from Hazell and Goodman, who led JMU to a 23-11 lead after one quarter.
Carodine continued to clean up the glass for JMU early in the second period, finishing with 10 boards in the half, as the Dukes used a balanced offensive attack to extend the lead to 43-25 at the break.
“I know that’s always a big focus for me, because (rebounding) is one of the things that I do,” Carodine said. “Coach O always tells us to go out there and compete every possession. That’s what I was doing and I was going for the ball.”
The Dukes increased the lead to 25 just a few minutes into the second half, but the Eagles (0-5) chipped away as the third quarter wore on, getting within 13 points with two minutes left in the period as Hope helped spark a 12-0 NC Central run.
Though JMU’s leading scorer on the season, Jefferson, had trouble getting going from the floor, the Dukes saw Hazell, Goodman and Green step up offensively. Still, the Eagles were pesky and after a couple of JMU turnovers had gotten back within 12 points before Jefferson hit a 3-pointer as the horn sounded to end the third and make it a 63-48 game heading into the final 10 minutes.
“I studied this team very thoroughly and I knew they wouldn’t quit,” O’Regan said. “I had some moments where I certainly wasn’t proud of our effort and execution and stuff, but there were many more moments I was proud.”
Despite the Eagles’ rally the Dukes remained in control from wire to wire and finished on a 7-0 run. Next up for JMU is a trip to Buffalo on Saturday, the first of three straight road games ahead for the Dukes.