James Madison hits the road for a Saturday afternoon game against the most surprising team of the early Colonial Athletic Association schedule.

William & Mary (3-12, 2-0 CAA) was, by almost any measure, one of the worst teams in the nation during non-conference play. The Tribe’s only victory before Christmas was against Mary Baldwin, a newly launched Division III men’s program in Staunton. 10 of W&M’s 12 losses to Division I foes were by double-digits.

Then came the start of conference play in late December, which promptly saw Dane Fischer’s team win back-to-back one-point games against Hofstra and Northeastern to move into first place in the CAA standings before a two-week COVID-19 break.

"The toughest part about it is, I don't think any of us felt like we'd be doing this again," Fischer told W&M’s athletics website. "It's been tough, and we've been hit by it a little bit, but it's what we have to deal with this season. We're excited to get back on the court and play. Hopefully, we'll get to a place where the season can go on uninterrupted."

Now JMU (10-3, 1-1 CAA), which missed nearly a month of action itself due to COVID, is the team that comes in hoping to build off a little momentum following arguably its best performance of the season Tuesday against Northeastern.

“I thought our guys responded well,” second-year JMU coach Mark Byington said. “We shot the ball really well and our defense was better. Not where we want it to be, but better. The eight scholarship players that were playing were ready to play and I thought played really well together.”

The Dukes shot lights out in a 23-point victory versus the Huskies to rebound from a loss to Hofstra in which JMU couldn’t hang onto separate eight-point leads.

But even in that loss, James Madison’s offense was clicking with the Dukes shooting better than 52 percent in both CAA games so far.

“Coach gives us a lot of freedom and we practice those shots,” JMU forward Julien Wooden said after the Dukes shot 12-for-23 from 3-point range against Northeastern. “Basically he gives us confidence to go out there and take them.”

William & Mary comes into this one giving up more than 72 points per game this season, while JMU is averaging nearly 80 points per game since the start of December.

The question for many teams these days, including the Dukes and Tribe, is player availability. Both teams had multiple conference games postponed due to COVID and Tuesday, JMU played without Texas State transfer forward Alonzo Sule due to COVID protocols. Three freshmen — Andrew McConnell, Jaylen Stinson and Devon Savage — who are all expected to redshirt also were not on the bench while Tyree Ihenacho continues to nurse an injury.

“Every day, this thing is hard to predict,” Byington said. “It’s very difficult with roster changes, but we’ll see who is available. As long as we have seven, we are going to play.”

JMU and the Tribe tip off at 4 p.m. from Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg. The game will be televised on Cox Cable in the Hampton Roads area.

Contact Shane Mettlen at 574-6244 or smettlen@dnronline.com. Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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