Matt Lewis

A step-back three from Matt Lewis kept JMU's season alive, taking down Towson in the opening round of the CAA tournament.

With Saturday’s opening-round matchup of the CAA tournament between JMU and Towson winding down, it looked like it was going to be another frustrating ending for JMU men’s basketball.

Trailing by two with only seconds remaining in the game, the Dukes were headed for a first-round exit for the third season in a row. Sophomore guard Matt Lewis had other ideas.

After taking a pass from freshman guard Deshon Parker, Lewis stepped back and sank a 3-point shot from the top of the key with 2.5 second remaining to seal a 74-73 win over the Tigers.

Sophomore forward Dwight Wilson and Lewis had a pair of 26-point performances to help the Dukes earn their first postseason win since 2016, keeping their season alive for another day.

“[This is] absolutely about my players and this program,” head coach Louis Rowe said. “I’m very thankful and blessed that these guys keep fighting and keep working. Nothing really tears them apart.”

Lewis’ game-winning shot wasn’t his first clutch moment this season. Just a few weeks ago, he nailed a game-tying 3-pointer to send JMU and Hofstra into overtime, a game where Lewis finished with 40 points and helped the Dukes upset the top-ranked team in the CAA.

“It’s not even about me,” Lewis said. “[Wilson] had a 26-point performance, [sophomore forward Greg Jones] came in and played huge minutes, it doesn’t come down to the last shot. The fight we had all game and contribution by the guys was the big thing.”

The game started with both teams struggling to keep a hold of the ball, with nine combined turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Turnovers quickly turned into points as each team traded baskets, but neither team could establish a lead and keep control of it. In the first half alone, there were eight lead changes between Towson and JMU.

Like numerous occasions this season, Wilson was a force in the paint for JMU. The big man from Tallahassee, Florida, helped power the Dukes to a 34-31 halftime lead with a game-high 10 points and four rebounds.

“I just wanted to win,” Wilson said. “They trust in me to score more on the block to take pressure off my brothers, so they can get more open opportunities and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Lewis began the second half playing aggressive, drawing two fouls and going 4-for-5 from the line in a quick span of three minutes to put JMU up by four. Towson responded with a run itself, rattling off six points in less than a minute to take a two-point lead. A three from senior guard Jordan McNeil and a putback dunk from junior forward Dennis Tunstall made it 49-45 Tigers, causing Rowe to call a timeout.

“I told [my team], ‘This is Towson. We’ve been in this situation before,’” Rowe said. “It’s just going to be a fight always.”

The back-and-forth action continued as each team traded punches. Towson grew its lead to 11 at one point, but two baskets from Wilson on consecutive possessions and sophomore guard Darius Banks’ 3-pointer pulled the Dukes within four. It was reported earlier this week that Banks would likely miss the CAA tournament, but Rowe said he wanted to fight through the injury.

“He wanted to play,” Rowe said. “He was frustrated about not playing in the last game of the regular season and basically said to me, ‘If there’s any way I can play, I’m going to play.’”

Throughout the contest, the Tigers’ rebounding prowess proved strong. Coming into the game, Towson had the highest rebounding margin in the CAA at +5. Against JMU, they out-rebounded the Dukes 29-23. On multiple possessions, Towson grabbed offensive rebounds that turned into points, helping the team stay in the lead.

With 45 seconds left, Wilson made a layup that made it 73-71. A stop on the opposite end gave JMU the ball with 14.4 seconds remaining with a chance to tie or win, and when Lewis hit the winning shot, he wheeled away toward the boisterous JMU faithful.

In the post-game press conference, Lewis and Wilson came out with a weight-lifting belt and JMU-themed construction hat. The objects are given to players who gave the most effort on the court.

“Everybody in the locker room should get one of these,” Lewis said. “I think Cam [Smith’s] minutes were huge, coming from not playing at all and giving his heart for three minutes. [Banks] shot one shot and it was a huge three that we needed. It’s really everybody that chips in.”

Towson had a chance to snatch the win back from the Dukes, but couldn’t get a good look at the basket. JMU moves on to face No. 1 seeded Hofstra tomorrow at noon, while Towson’s season comes to a close.

Contact Noah Ziegler at zieglenh@dukes.jmu.edu. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.