Sophomore point guard Ron Curry (Pennsauken, N.J./Paul VI) tallied a career-high 19 points as JMU staved off Northern Illinois’ second-half push for a 60-55 victory in the opening game of the NIU Invitational on Friday night at the NIU Convocation Center.
JMU improved to 1-1 while dropping NIU to 0-2 in the first-ever meeting between the programs.
Curry highlighted a team effort, topping his previous career high of 13 points by the 13-minute mark of the second half. He finished with 19 points with nine in the first half and 10 in the second. Curry also tallied five boards and five assists.
Graduate student Andrey Semenov (St. Petersburg, Russia/Blue Ridge School) had his second career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Charles Cooke (Trenton, N.J./Trenton Catholic) added 13 points, including 10 in the second half, and nearly posted his first career double-double with a career-high nine rebounds.
After JMU built a 10-point halftime advantage, NIU whittled away the deficit quickly out of the break, using a 12-4 stretch of just over five minutes to make it 37-35. A pair of threes by Cooke and a three-point play by Curry helped the Dukes build the margin back to as much as eight.
However, with the Dukes in front 49-42 with 9:25 to go, the Huskies got a three-point play from Aaron Armstead and a pair of free throws from Travon Baker to again make it a two-poitn game at 49-47 with 7:44 remaining.
The margin wavered between two and four points for the next five minutes as the teams traded free throws. Semenov’s putback tip-in off a missed three by freshman guard Jackson Kent (High Point, N.C./High Point Christian) made it 55-51 at the 3:29 mark. After a missed three, a layup by Cooke extended the lead beyond four for the first time in seven minutes at 57-51 with 2:45 on the clock.
Baker hit two more free throws and a pair of missed threes by JMU allowed the Huskies to cut the deficit back to two at 57-55 with a layup from Aksel Bolin with 1:26 to go. However, the Dukes then got the clinching play from Semenov, who putback Curry’s missed jumper in the paint for his second tip-in in three minutes to make it 59-55 with 46 seconds to go. Curry added a free throw to account for the 60-55 final margin.
The duo of Baker and Armstead led NIU with 17 and 16 points, respectively, each on 5-for-11 shooting.
JMU shot 43 percent for the game while limiting NIU to 32 percent. Both teams struggled from long distance with JMU 5-for-23 (22 percent) from the arc and NIU 18 percent (5-for-28). The Huskies also hurt their chances at the charity stripe, going 14-for-26 (54 percent). JMU held a 43-36 advantage on the glass with its best rebounding total in 19 games.
After falling behind 5-2 in the opening minutes of the contest, JMU used a 7-0 run to take charge for its first lead of the season. Then with a one-point margin at 11-10, the Dukes used a 10-2 run to pull ahead 21-12 and force a Huskies’ timeout with eight minutes to go.
The lead reached as large as 12 points at 28-16 on a three by Cooke before the Dukes took a 33-23 lead into the locker room.
Curry led all players with nine points in the opening half while Kent added eight with two threes. Semenov had six points and six boards in the half. As a team, JMU shot 50 percent for the half while holding NIU to 31 percent.
JMU will continue the three-day NIU Invitational on Saturday with a 6:30 p.m. game taking on Milwaukee. The Panthers opened the day’s action with a 64-61 victory over San Jose State with five players accounting for 63 of the 64 points while posting between nine and 16 points apiece.