No more mistakes can be made. It’s win or go home.
March is the most intense month in college basketball. It holds heartbreak, Cinderella stories and a level of delirium that’s hard to find in any sport. As conference tournaments begin, each team’s season is in limbo — and that’s no different for JMU men’s basketball.
The Dukes won three of four games — one of which was a 104-99 (OT) upset over No. 1 Hofstra — before ending the season on a two-game skid. JMU has struggled to string together consecutive wins during head coach Louis Rowe’s time at the helm, but in the CAA Tournament, all trends and statistics are thrown away.
After finishing their 2018-19 campaign 13-18 (6-12 CAA), the Dukes are slotted as the No. 8 seed and will open the CAA tournament against No. 9 Towson. JMU and the Tigers split games in the regular season, and the third contest is shaping up to be another close one. During Rowe’s time as coach, the Dukes have been 4-2 against Towson with an average margin of victory of 9.75 points.
“We’re excited,” sophomore guard Matt Lewis said. “Going into the tournament is like a new season. We’re focused on winning this one game and not trying to look ahead too late.”
For redshirt senior guard Stuckey Mosley and senior forward Develle Phillips, a loss in the CAA Tournament will mean their college careers have come to an end. It may be bittersweet, but Mosley knows he has to give it his all in order to extend his time as a Duke.
“I know that any game could be our last game, so I just have to leave it all out there on the court,” Mosley said. “Go into the tournament with focus and making sure this next game isn’t my last game.”
Despite ending the season with two losses, Mosley says the team is still confident in itself. It’s important for them to remain focused and stick to the game plan.
The winner of JMU and Towson will face Hofstra, a game every team in the CAA would circle on its calendars. However, one of the biggest keys to success in postseason play is focusing on the game at hand and not looking ahead. The Dukes know that, so their only target right now is Towson.
Rowe has looked at Towson’s last four games to see their most recent tendencies. In the last meeting between the teams, the Tigers prevailed 66-59, a game in which junior guard Brian Fobbs had 29 points and shot 11-for-15 from the field.
“I thought that our body language was bad,” Rowe said. “I didn’t feel like we had juice and energy for that game. It was kind of weird because we were in the game … We need a lot of energy and have got to be ready to play Towson because they’re really tough and physical.”
The stakes are higher when it’s a win-or-go-home situation. When the season is on the line, the extra effort could be the edge in a game.
Despite being the No. 9 seed, Towson has proven to be a tough team for any opponent in the CAA. The Tigers defeated No. 2 Northeastern 75-72 and took Hofstra to double overtime.
“They play hard, so you’re going to have to bring it,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s win or go home, so we don’t want to lose. We’re playing for a physical game, having to box out and taking care of the defensive side and the offense will come.”
Towson is first in the CAA in rebounding margin (+5), offensive rebounds per game (12.3) and field goal percentage defense (43.4). Where it ranks last is in scoring offense, 3-point field goal percentage and assists.
There are different mindsets and game plans to have in a playoff scenario, but JMU’s pregame mentalities will stay the same. If the Dukes make the tournament title game, that would mean they’d play four games in four days, making preparation in those quick turnarounds even more important.
“There’s not another game if you lose,” Rowe said. “The trick is to approach every game and practice the same way. I know that sounds cliche, but you’ve got to look at our matchup against Towson and say, ‘What do we need to do to win that game?’ and not worry about anything else.”
According to Rowe and Lewis, the biggest key for JMU’s success is executing down the stretch. The win over Hofstra shows the Dukes can put together a complete game, but they need to replicate that in order to show that they’ve made progress since last season.
“I love the competition. I love the fact we’re at a new point of the season,” Rowe said. “There’s so much on the line and you can make a mark. To me, going into this tournament with a blank slate and saying, ‘What can we accomplish?’ I would love for us to take a step and win a first round game. I feel like I had the same approach as a player, that you always approach March as a new season.”
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.