news credit to jmu dukes give 3 uva everything they could handle and more
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Credit to JMU: Dukes give #3 UVA everything they could handle, and more

jayden gardner
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia, playing shorthanded when starting junior guard Reece Beekman left the game with 16:13 remaining in the first half and did not return, found a way to hold-off a scrappy James Madison 55-50 here in JPJ Tuesday night.

The Dukes, trailing 27-20 at the break, didn’t have any quit in them during the second half. JMU got off to a 10-6 run to start the second half, and eventually tied it 42 with 7:51 left. Game on.

Two baskets by Virginia’s Jayden Gardner gave UVA a bit of breathing room at 46-42 before a media timeout with 5:48 remaining. Madison head coach Mark Byington said his team wasn’t intimidated at that moment, battling the nation’s No. 3 ranked team on the road in a hostile setting.

“I thought we really held our composure. This building (JPJ) isn’t an easy place to play in. We regrouped nicely,” said Byington. “I was especially glad to see Tax (Molson) playing like himself.”

Molson played just over five minutes in JMU’s last outing on Friday against Eastern Kentucky, still battling an illness during the Dukes’ trip to Georgia over Thanksgiving.

“He’s definitely not scared, he’s an older guy, he’s experienced; he likes these situations and made some big plays for us tonight,” added Byington.

Virginia extended their lead to 51-43 with 4:08 left, but UVA missed six free throws down the stretch that allowed JMU to hang around.

Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett said the intensity of the game and his players’ fatigue might have contributed to the faulty foul shooting.

“The free throws, we got to just keep working on,” Bennett said. “We’ve shot the free throw very well this year percentage-wise, but it was tough to see some of those go out, but we still found a way to win.”

Byington said he told UVA’s Kihei Clark, who is playing his fifth season, after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything, and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. So, I told him this time, I was like, ‘Look, I better never see you in college basketball again,’ but he’s one of my favorites,” added Byington.

For Clark, that sentiment from opposing coaches is becoming old news. Saturday, FSU’s head coach Leonard Hamilton echoes the same thought in the postgame handshake line.

A capacity crowd in JPJ saw an entertaining, if not textbook, basketball game. JMU had a respectable number of supporters mixed in the arena, and it made for a raucous environment at times.

While the game was too close for comfort for UVA fans, it made for an exciting event that will only heighten the awareness of major college basketball in the state of Virginia.

Virginia’s win, coupled with No. 2-ranked Texas losing to Illinois, sets up a potential No.1 vs. No 2. matchup on Dec. 17 in Charlottesville.

No. 1 Houston has home games with Alabama and North Carolina A&T before heading to Virgina, while the Cavaliers, who will certainly move to No. 2 are idle with exam break until the Cougars arrive in town.

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.