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Making conference, national noise - The Breeze: Sports

Making conference, national noise

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:00 am

The last time the JMU men's basketball team received votes in major national polls was the 1991-1992 season, when the great Charles "Lefty" Driesell coached the Dukes.

That team finished 21-11 and tied for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. However, a loss in the CAA tournament resigned their fate to the National Invitation

Tournament, not the NCAA Tournament. With postseason play still a couple months away, this year's Dukes reached a small milestone, receiving four votes in the Associated Press' Top 25 and two votes in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

"It's just good for the program that we got votes," senior forward Denzel Bowles said. "They haven't had that in a long time and we're just trying to bring a winning tradition

back to JMU."

At 15-3, 5-1 in the CAA, the Dukes have seven more wins than they had at this point last season. In order to bring a winning mentality back to JMU, the Dukes will have to continue their fine play through the toughest part of their schedule. Nine out of their final 12 regular season

games are against teams currently in the top five of the CAA.

"We just wanna win as many games as possible," junior forward Rayshawn Goins said. "Go out there and leave it all on the floor and at the end of the day, everything will take care of itself."

The Dukes entered the week tied first atop the CAA with Virginia Commonwealth University and Hofstra University, but they are not ready to celebrate just yet.

"It shows that our hard work is paying off," junior forward Julius Wells said. "It's motivation for us to keep working hard." This week, JMU has a double dose of in-state rivalry when they play at Old Dominion University on Wednesday night and at home against George Mason University on Saturday at 11 a.m.

"This Old Dominion game and this George Mason game are going to be two great tests," head coach Matt Brady said. "They're going to be parameters for where our team is right

now."

During Brady's tenure, the Dukes are a combined 2-7 against ODU and Mason, with a single win coming against each program.

"The fact of the matter is we've only had a healthy team in two of those nine games," Brady said. "This is the healthiest our team has been at JMU and we played well at Old Dominion [last season]. Now we just have to go try and get a win."

The Dukes lost last season's match-up at ODU, 74-72, thanks to the Monarchs' now-senior forward Ben Finney's jumper with 13 seconds remaining in the game. Wells' three point shot at the buzzer was off target.

The sting of that loss still lingers in Wells, who was unable to cash in on the Dukes' final chance at victory.

"It hurts especially because I missed the game winning shot," Wells said. "That could have sealed the win for us, so I'm really focused going into this game."

The Dukes will get a chance to showcase that they are deserving of their votes against Mason, as the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

"It's gonna be packed in here," Goins said. "Everybody around the world is watching so it's gonna be big."

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the Dukes, Brady has found it most important to continue pushing his team toward its full potential.

"We just want to keep getting better," Brady said. "Whether it's national TV or the building is half full, or all the way full or nobody shows up. We only can control how we play and how hard we play."

Brady's encouragement is echoed by Goins, who is no stranger to reaching championships.

With the Cincinnati State Surge of the National Junior College Athletic Association last season, Goins led the team to a 24-10 record and a spot in the Division II national title game.

"Just keep it rolling," Goins said. "We're in conference play and every win is big. We just want to bring it every game."

The Dukes will have to keep it rolling without sophomore forward Andrey Semenov, who may miss Wednesday's game at ODU due to nagging back pain, which stems from an injury that cut his 2009-2010 season short, according to Brady.

Sophomore guard Devon Moore did not practice Monday or Tuesday, but Brady expects his starting point guard to play big minutes Wednesday. Moore mildly sprained his ankle at the end of the UNC Wilmington game on Saturday night.

The Dukes are not using injuries as an excuse as they know that they are still capable of getting wins.

"If we go in there and do what we gotta do, we'll come out with the win," Wells said.

Along with votes in the polls, JMU created buzz after being featured in CBS Sportsline's most recent NCAA tournament projection. The network has predicted the Dukes to be a 12-seed in this March's tournament.

The Dukes will need to continue to win if they want to maintain such recognition.

"All of the good that we have done to date, with the 15-3 record, can be undone by spotty play, or sporadic play or not enough energy," Brady said.

Contact Thomas Estes at estesto@dukes.jmu.edu.