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JMU falls in its second-straight conference match to UNCW. 

Coming off its largest loss of the season against Elon, JMU men’s basketball looked to bounce back against UNC-Wilmington — the only undefeated team left in conference play. But a buzzer-beater from UNCW senior guard Jaylen Sims gave UNCW its seventh-straight win with a final score of 71-70.

“This is the best game we’ve played since we came back from our COVID pause,” JMU men’s basketball head coach Mark Byington said. “It’s an unfortunate ending.”

The Dukes faced early double-digit deficits in their past two contests, but they didn’t start slow this time. Jumping out to a 12-8 lead, redshirt junior guard Vado Morse hit two 3-pointers in the opening five minutes.

UNCW responded with a defensive stand, rendering JMU unable to score for over five minutes as the Seahawks took a 19-16 lead. Redshirt freshman forward Justin Amadi managed to break the dry spell for the Dukes with a pair of layups, the second of which gave JMU the lead once again.

Amadi led the Dukes with seven offensive rebounds in the first half — three more than the UNCW roster. Despite a 14-9 advantage in offensive rebounds for JMU, the Seahawks outscored the Dukes 17-6 on second-chance points.

“We went to the offensive glass,” Byington said. “It’s a one-point game; there’s a lot of things like that you wish you had back.”

The Dukes strung together a 12-7 run after the five-minute drought. After opening the game 7-for-27 from the field, the Dukes made six straight field-goal attempts, sparking a 6-0 run. JMU ended the half without scoring in the final 4:07 of the half as a pair of free throws from UNCW graduate guard Mike Okauru gave the Seahawks a 31-30 at the break.

After a slip and turnover from Morse led to a layup from Sims at the start of the second half, the Dukes went on a 13-0 run, including eight from Morse — he finished with a team-high 25 points. 

UNCW responded to its largest deficit with a 6-0 run. Freshman forward Trazarien White cut the deficit to six with a fast-break layup.

The Dukes increased their lead back to double digits thanks to a dunk from graduate guard Takal Molson, which came in the midst of a 7-0 JMU run. The Dukes controlled the paint throughout the contest, scoring 40 of their 70 points there, while out-rebounding UNCW 39-29.

“As far as on the defensive side and locking in on guys, I think we’re trending in the right direction,” Molson said.

UNCW cut the deficit to four after a 9-0 run, which included a pair of 3-pointers from graduate guard Jaylen Fornes. The Seahawks took advantage of a turnover-filled half from the Dukes, scoring 16 second half points off nine JMU turnovers.

JMU faced foul trouble late for the third-straight game, as Amadi and Morse both committed their fourth with less than five minutes left. The Seahawks capitalized, shooting 12-for-16 on free throws — sparking a comeback.

The end of the game turned into a duel between Morse and junior guard Shykeim Phillips. Morse scored seven in the final three and a half minutes, while Phillips scored nine in that same stretch — including a layup to cut the lead to one. Molson made one of his two free throws to increase the lead back to two. UNCW had the ball and a late chance to win with just 2.1 seconds remaining and called the timeout. 

Off an inbound, Sims hit a contested 3-pointer as time expired to give UNCW a 71-70 in front of a stunned Atlantic Union Bank Center.

“The shot for sure hurt, but at the end of the day, it’s basketball,” Morse said. “You just gotta move on and move forward.”

The Seahawks improve to 10-5 (4-0 CAA) and travel to face Towson on Jan. 22 for a 2 p.m. tipoff. The Dukes fall to 11-5 (2-3 CAA) and host College of Charleston on Jan. 22 at 4 p.m.

Contact Connor Harris at harri7cj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more men’s basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.