Even with four starters back from a season ago, James Madison coach Louis Rowe has needed quality minutes from a trio of freshman so far. Through two early-season games, that has meant throwing them right into the fire, with tonight’s return to the Convocation Center a potential opportunity to finally let them ease their way back into a long season ahead.
Next up for the Dukes is Division III Shenandoah, which plays here at 4 p.m. today.
Michael Christmas, who has been in the Dukes’ starting lineup thus far, along with fellow forward Julien Wooden and guard Jayvis Harvey are all averaging at least 19 minutes per game. All three were on the floor in critical situations during their college debut, a 79-74 victory against Charlotte.
And all three got to experience one of the toughest environments in college basketball Sunday night at Virginia, where the No. 9 Cavaliers pulled away in the second half for a 31-point victory.
“We’ve played well in spurts in both games, but we still haven’t put together a full game,” Rowe said. “So we started out shaky against Charlotte, then we got it together. The next game we played was a really tough game, understatement, against the reigning national champion in their building. I thought we were playing our game early and obviously they were going to make an adjustment. They were going to throw a punch and I don’t think we responded very well.”
The Dukes welcome Shenandoah for their third game of the season, a match up that should overwhelmingly favor JMU and may provide some learning situations for the first-year players. That would be guards Zyon Dobbs and Quinn Richey as they round out the freshman class along with forward Dalton Jefferson, who has not dressed the first two games because of an injury.
“We’ve got these freshmen and they have to grow up really fast,” Rowe said. “So we need every opportunity practice-wise. Now we’ve got two sets of game film and we can continue to push these guys and teach these guys. And then we get them another game and they can get back to playing the way we are supposed to be playing, especially offensively.”
JMU welcomes the Hornets, who lost their opener to Mary Washington, 81-53, as the first game of a doubleheader at the Convo.
Rowe said his upperclassmen, particularly juniors Darius Banks and Matt Lewis and sophomore Deshon Parker who were thrust into big roles as freshmen, have also contributed to leading the current crop of freshmen.
“We try to show them how to handle the adversity,” Lewis said after the Dukes loss at Virginia. “We can’t waver when our team takes that punch. But we have to learn from it.”