James Madison coach Sean O’Regan said he didn’t hold anything against the schedule makers at the Colonial Athletic Association offices in Richmond.
But even though it doesn’t bother the JMU staff, there’s no questioning the fact the Dukes have been saddled with back-to-back road games against the CAA teams that have given them the most trouble over the past year or so.
“It really is no problem,” O’Regan said with a chuckle at his weekly press conference. “It’s all about our approach and what we do. But in conference, it’s funny because you really have to be able to pivot from each game. Every matchup is so different, you have to keep the focus on yourself.”
JMU (11-3, 2-1 CAA) heads to UNC Wilmington (5-10, 2-2) for a Friday night game against a Seahawks team that handed the Dukes their only regular-season CAA loss last season. While JMU has mostly dominated the rest of the league since the start of the 2018-19 season, UNCW also hung tight in the rematch at the Convocation Center last winter.
This game comes on the heels of JMU’s first CAA loss of this season, a one-point setback at Towson on Sunday. The Dukes pulled off a sweep of Towson last season, but it wasn’t easy. O’Regan’s squad needed overtime to top the Tigers in Harrisonburg before hanging on for a single-digit victory at Towson.
The Seahawks and Tigers have proven to be a tough matchup for JMU, which beat CAA teams by an average of 16 points per game last season.
“Our talent, it gives us a leg up a little bit, but it doesn’t do it all,” O’Regan said. “This team has played well, but we’re still kind of finding our rhythm. We’re finding ourselves.”
That statement might also apply to the opponents. UNCW comes in with a losing record, but had three losses to ACC teams in non-conference play and came up with a victory against a solid William & Mary team last week.
The Seahawks return several players who gave JMU trouble last season, including GiGi Smith, who is fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.8 points per game. Forward Lacey Suggs adds 12.8 points per game and leads UNCW at 5.1 rebounds a contest.
UNCW is expecting one of its largest crowds of the season for its annual Pink Day game, which raises money for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. But regardless of the atmosphere on the road, JMU players have long contended success is all about how they perform as a team.
“For us, it’s game by game and no one team even in the CAA is bigger than the next,” JMU senior guard Kamiah Smalls said.
Smalls has surged to the top of the conference in scoring at 20.1 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
“It’s all about playing JMU basketball,” she said. “When we do that we are good, but it’s something we have to focus on for ourselves no matter what game we are going into.”