What started off as a lackluster performance from JMU men’s basketball became a glimpse into what the team can do.
In the final first game at the Convocation Center, emotions ran high for both JMU men’s and women’s basketball. The women posted a commanding 93-53 win over Longwood, leaving the men to finish back-to-back contests to celebrate the Convo’s final season-opener with a bang.
And so it did.
Down 31-19 to Charlotte (0-1) with seven minutes left in the first half, the Dukes (1-0) stormed back and took the lead with 17:34 remaining in the game. For the next five minutes, the 49ers and JMU took turns in the driver’s seat. Then, with just over 12 minutes to play, the Dukes grabbed the advantage and never gave it back.
“I loved that timeout down 31-19 where I could just say, ‘Guys, settle down. We know we’re good,’” JMU head coach Louis Rowe said. “For the first time, some guys were staring back at me. Not heads down, they were looking back at me. Matt [Lewis] actually yelled at them, ‘Come on guys, he’s right. Settle down.’”
Without junior forward Dwight Wilson, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, JMU turned to fellow junior forward Zach Jacobs and freshman forward Julien Wooden. The two alternated time out on the floor, and while Wooden failed to score, he had a +/- of +8, and Jacobs posted 15 points and six rebounds.
The first half was as back-and-forth as it could’ve been. Both teams had the hot hands coming out of the gates, but Charlotte began to separate itself once it took advantage of JMU’s spacious defense. Holding a slim 10-9 lead, the 49ers won the next 7:44 by out-scoring the Dukes 22-9.
Before the season, the Dukes wanted an intense defense that would put pressure on other teams to force turnovers. Once Charlotte started knocking down shots, head coach Louis Rowe needed to come up with an answer. He elected to switch the defense to a 2-3 zone, which slowed down the game’s pace and, in turn, the 49ers’ shooting.
“We’ve been through it before, we’ve been in close games a lot over the past three years,” Jacobs said. “I think that really gave us the experience to know what we had to do and get it done.”
Combined with the defensive change, JMU switched the momentum after a junior guard Matt Lewis three closed the half on a 16-5 run, trimming the Charlotte lead to 34-33 before the intermission. Lewis had nine points and six assists after 20 minutes and was well on his way to a double-double.
Despite the momentum shift, problems still hovered over the Dukes. They missed five shots in the paint and were 5-for-11 from the charity stripe in the first half. Despite these shortcomings, JMU kept its composure and came out in the second half swinging.
“It shows a lot about the resilience of this team,” Lewis said. “We got guys — even the freshman — that came in a lot of big minutes with [Darius Banks] being out. It shows the resilience of the team and the fight we have.”
Like the start of the game, both teams traded the lead. As the game went on, JMU’s freshman class showed what it was made of and sparked a run that handed the Dukes an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
Sophomore guard Deshon Parker had an elusive layup, freshman guard Jayvis Harvey sank a 3-pointer and Parker replicated his layup to help the Dukes go up 54-48. From then on, they began to build what became the first win of the regular season.
“The course of the game, it was kinda going back-and-forth, I know I needed to step up because my team needed me,” Parker said. “I didn’t try to be more aggressive, and I let the game come to me, and I just got easy buckets.”
Harvey wasn’t the only freshman to have an impressive debut. Forward Michael Christmas started and had nine points, shooting 3-for-4 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown. The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native also had six rebounds — tied for third-most on JMU.
Lewis achieved a double-double, finishing with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Parker added 17 points, while Banks contributed 10 points and six rebounds. The team went 12-for-28 from the free-throw line but was lucky to not have that come back to haunt it.
Starting the season with a win is what every coach wants, and Rowe got it. JMU turns its attention to defending national champion, Virginia, in an in-state bout. The Cavaliers host the Dukes on Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia, with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more men’s basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.