Sean O’Regan knows these things happen when coaching college-aged players, but a rare Colonial Athletic Association defeat still stings for the fourth-year James Madison coach.
“Man, I just hate losing,” O’Regan said Monday, about 20 hours after the Dukes fell by one at Towson.
JMU got caught on the wrong side of a wacky weekend across women’s basketball. The top three teams in last week’s AP poll all lost — with unranked Arizona State taking out both No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State on the road.
Closer to home, the Dukes were once again a vote getter in the coaches’ Top 25 ranking before blowing it Sunday against the previously-reeling Tigers. O’Regan had been upset with the way his team practiced Friday before leaving for Towson, and the start of the game didn’t make him feel any better.
JMU (11-3, 2-1 CAA) fell behind by 21 points in the first half as Towson’s duo of Kionna Jeter and Nukiya Mayo were red hot from the start. The Dukes battled all the way back and led in the final minute, but Jeter scored with two seconds to go to give Towson (6-8, 1-2) a 76-75 victory.
“Very honestly, we didn’t deserve to win the game,” O’Regan said. “I feel great about where we are considering how bad we played and we still had a chance to win. That leaves me a lot of hope for this year.”
Yet it can still be frustrating to think how close the Dukes — considered by most to be far and away the deepest, most talented team in the CAA — are to a perfect season at this point. JMU’s three losses to Towson, Virginia and No. 20 Maryland came by a total of nine points. And each included a stretch of five or so minutes in which the Dukes were totally ineffective.
On the other hand, JMU has escaped some poor stretches on the road against Villanova and Georgetown and still posted victories. Now O’Regan hopes a conference loss serves as a wake-up call.
“This team is so talented and so capable, I don’t like the fact we’re not ready to play,” O’Regan said. “Right now, the high ceiling is just a negative for me. Is that all we are as a team is we’re just a talented group? And we’re not gritty and we’re not hard-nosed and detail-oriented? I can’t do the what-if game. This thing is a long journey, but for whatever reason we needed to get our butt kicked.”
Now the rest of the CAA has seen the senior-laden Dukes are vulnerable. And now JMU gets ready for a game Friday at UNC Wilmington, where the Seahawks handed James Madison its only regular-season CAA loss last year on a game-winning jumper in the closing seconds.
“JMU is a very, very good team,” Towson coach Diane Richardson said. “We came out on top because we played for us. We knew we couldn’t sit back on a team like JMU and our players took it upon themselves to go out and go out strong.”
O’Regan has seen evidence that when his team is focused and hungry it can be one of the very best in the nation, and he’s hoping that’s the version of the Dukes to show up the rest of the season.
“We can’t continue to rely on being more talented than other teams,” he said. “Or we’re going to get caught up again.”