Seven … and counting

Story by Chris Graham
sportsdom@ntelos.net

dukedoglogo2cpc.jpgSeven wins. That was all JMU could muster on the hardwood in 2006-2007.
So for the Dukes to have recorded a seventh win in 2007-2008 on Dec. 19, well, that was reason for celebration.
“It’s a good thing – on every level,” James Madison coach Dean Keener said after his team’s 85-74 win over Radford Monday night in the Convocation Center that pushed the Dukes’ record to 7-1.

“I’m most happy for our players, particularly the guys who have been here a year, two years, three years. They’ve perservered. I’m happy for everybody around the program – whether that’s administrators, support personnel. And I’m also happy for our fan base – particularly the ones that have kind of hung in there with us, those that have been in attendance or season-ticket holders. I’m happy for everybody at this point,” Keener said.

“With that said, we know we’ve got a lot of basketball to play. But it sure is nice to be 7-1,” Keener said.

The key to the turnaround, it would seem, has been the addition of St. Joseph’s transfer Abulai Jalloh, who is averaging 16.9 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent accuracy from three-point range. But while Keener makes it clear that Jalloh’s presence has changed his team by giving it a scorer who can fill the net as a spot-up shooter and someone who can create his own points off the dribble, there’s something else going on that doesn’t have as much to do with one player as with the growth of the entire team.

“It’s the old adage – success breeds success,” Keener said. “We’ve got a level of confidence right now that started – it started with the win against Siena, but I think it really kind of came to a head the week we played Eastern Kentucky and Northeastern on the road. In both games, we were down at some point, and we just would battle back.

“I think our guys were able to draw on that – whereas in the past, we just had not had any games where the game’s been in the balance, and we’ve been able to pull out the win,” Keener said.

Forward Terrance Carter leads JMU in scoring at 17.9 points per game and is also hauling in a team-high 8.5 rebounds per contest – numbers that are up significantly from his 12.8 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2006-2007. For Carter, the turnaround that we’ve been seeing to date in 2007-2008 is about hard work paying off.

“Last year was a long year, but coming into this season, working hard throughout the summer, we felt we would come out and have a good year for ourselves – because we felt that we have the team to do it,” Carter said.

“We’re that much better than we were last year. So it’s not a surprise that we are where we are – but we’re just going to continue one game at a time,” Carter said.

It’s not going to be easy to keep the momentum going forward. Five of JMU’s next six are on the road, beginning with a game Saturday at Seton Hall, a Big East school that boasts a win over Virginia already this season.

But for Keener, keeping things moving forward will be essential to having the ’07-’08 season end the way it has started for the Dukes – and their fans.

“It’s going to take some time,” Keener said of the turnaround in progress. “As I’ve said, I think our fans have been great, but there is still some doubt. I sense that there’s doubt, maybe even to the point of pessimism – and I say that, and I love our fan base, but when you’ve been through what they’ve been through for the last decade, it’s tough to just say, Well, they’ve won four at home, or they’re 7-1.”
“We need to get to Jan. 7th with a little bit of a buzz for our students and our fan base once we get into CAA play with school in session,” Keener said.

  

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.

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