“Last year we had pretty much the same lead, like a 20-point lead, and it went away real quick,” said Kyle Swanston, a senior who was around for last year’s heartbreaking 112-110 overtime loss at Seton Hall that JMU dominated for long stretches, and saw almost the exact same storyline unfold Monday night in the return match in the Convocation Center.
The Dukes rolled to a 40-22 lead at the half with defense, mainly, holding the Pirates, who hold wins over Southern Cal and Virginia Tech this season, to 28.6 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes. And then defense got Seton Hall back into the game, and a Paul Gause layup with 5:30 left capped an extended 39-15 run that gave the Pirates a 58-55 lead and seemed to suck the air out of the Convo.
What happened next was where we went off-script. JMU dug down on D again, holding its Big East rivals to two field goals in the final 5:30, getting a clutch three from Swanston with 2:07 to go and then making its free throws in the final minute to seal the deal on a 70-64 win.
“We forced them to take some deeper shots. They weren’t getting clean shots from the three-point line. And they weren’t getting all the way to the rim,” first-year James Madison coach Matt Brady said by way of making basketball seem simple, as it is, really.
Though not as simple as it had looked early on in this one. Seton Hall (8-3), coming off a last-second loss to Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis Saturday night, looked disinterested, basically, coming out of the locker room, trailing by as many as 21 in the first half. “For whatever reason, we were just out of it in the first half,” said Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez.
An 11-0 SHU run cut a 16-point JMU lead to five at 48-43 with 11:57 to go, and then after Heiden Ratner hit a long three in front of the JMU bench that made it 55-48 Dukes with 9:41 to go, Seton Hall went on a 10-0 run over the next 4:11 before Madison righted the ship with its defense.
“We focus the game on our defense. We know if we play defense, then at the end of the game we should have that W at the end,” said senior Juwann James, who came off the bench to lead the Dukes with 14 points in 28 minutes.
Swanston and freshman guard Devon Moore each had 12 points, and freshman Julius Wells added 11 points and nine rebounds for JMU, which improved to 7-4 on the season with the win.
Robert Mitchell led four Pirates in double figures with 23 points.
– Story by Chris Graham