DAYTON, Ohio — A.J. Davis, who stepped in as a starter because James Madison’s leading scorer was suspended for a half, led the way with 20 points as the Dukes beat LIU Brooklyn 68-55 on Wednesday night in the First Four.
The Dukes (21-14) advance to meet top-seeded Indiana (27-6) on Friday night at the same University of Dayton Arena.
James Madison was without suspended starter Rayshawn Goins for the first half but built a big lead. After the Blackbirds (20-14) battled back to take a brief lead, the Dukes surged again to win going away.
Charles Cooke added 15 points and Andre Nation 14 for the Dukes, who hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1983 and hadn’t played in the big dance in 19 years.
Jamal Olasewere had 20 points and 10 rebounds and C.J. Garner 16 points for the Blackbirds, who have lost in their first game in each of their six trips to the tournament.
JMU was without Goins, its leading scorer (12.7) and rebounder (7.4) after he was suspended for the first half following a weekend arrest. Police in Harrisonburg, Va., said they were called to break up a party early Sunday morning and Goins was shouting obscenities at them. He was not arrested on site, according to the police, for fear the crowd would “turn riotous.”
He was suspended for the opening half by coach Matt Brady on Monday.
After wasting a double-digit first-half lead, the Dukes regrouped. E.J. Reed’s two foul shots with 15:02 left gave the Blackbirds their first lead of the game. But after falling behind, JMU found another gear.
Devon Moore, who had six assists, scored in transition right through the heart of the lane, Nation hit a follow and Davis took a long pass and popped in the shot off glass for a 45-40 advantage.
Nation then blocked a shot at the other end and tossed a long lead pass to Cooke, who dunked while being fouled. His three-point play made it a 9-0 run for a 48-40 lead with under 12 minutes left.
The Blackbirds never threatened again.
Goins came in early in the second half but appeared out of synch for several minutes. After missing his first three shots badly, he finally got on the board with a muscular move inside on a putback with 7:36 left to push the lead to 56-51. The next trip down the floor, he scored again, this time off a nifty assist pass inside from Ron Curry.
It was not a huge falloff going to Davis in the starting lineup in place of Goins, since Davis was MVP of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament just over a week ago, and came in averaging 20.5 in his last 10 games and 20.7 in the CAA tourney.
Davis, of course, opened the game with a 3 and the Dukes never trailed in the first half. They hit 4 of 8 3-pointers at the outset to build a 20-8 lead in the opening 9 minutes, with Davis matching Brooklyn’s output all by himself.
LIU, making its third straight NCAA appearance at Northeast Conference champions, had a hand in its poor start, turning the ball over seven times — with JMU scoring each time immediately afterward to turn those mistakes into 13 early points that fueled the Dukes’ spurt.
The Blackbirds more than held their own inside and on the boards, but missed their first six 3-pointers.
When that statistic changed, so did the game.
Down as many as 12, the Blackbirds closed the half with a 13-2 run to trail 32-31 — with a go-ahead 3 by Garner disallowed because it came after the buzzer.
On successive trips down the floor, LIU hit three straight 3s — two by Jason Brickman, the nation’s leader in assists at 8.5 per game, and the other by Troy Joseph.
The Blackbirds came in trying to duplicate the success of fellow NEC member Robert Morris, which stunned defending national champion Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
The Blackbirds lost to top-seeded Michigan State 89-67 a year ago and 102-87 to second-seeded North Carolina in 2011 two years ago.
They had also weathered their share of adversity. They opened 0-4 and then lost Julian Boyd, their conference’s top player the year before, with a season-ending knee injury after eight games.
JMU coach Matt Brady said in the days leading to the game that one of his biggest concerns was the Blackbirds’ NCAA experience. Six players had seen action on the big stage in the previous two years.
The Dukes, who won just one of their first six games, were making their fifth NCAA appearance — and first in 19 years.
Once upon a time, Lou Campanelli coached the Dukes to mammoth NCAA upsets over Georgetown in 1981, Ohio State in 1982 and West Virginia in 1983. The 1982 team lost to eventual national champion North Carolina — led by Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins — 52-50 in the final minute.
But James Madison’s last appearance came with Lefty Driesell prowling the sideline in 1994. It was yet another close loss, 64-62 to Florida.
This time, JMU advanced with no upset necessary.
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