By Tommy Keeler Jr.
HARRISONBURG -- James Madison University's men's basketball team played only its second home game of the season on Monday night and the trio of Charles Cooke, Ron Curry and Andrey Semenov made sure it was a successful one.
The trio helped lift the Dukes to a 73-68 victory over Ball State in non-conference action at the Convocation Center. They combined for 53 of JMU's points.
Curry said it was important to come out and get a win on their home court.
"We were just trying to come out and get this one for JMU Nation," Curry said. "We didn't get a win on this court the last time we came out, so we just tried to come out and give it everything we got for the fans that were still around, so they can see us get a win."
The Dukes led almost the whole way, but the Cardinals were able to close the gap a few times.
Ball State made one final run in the second half to cut the lead to 69-66 with 53 seconds left.
Three combined free throws by Cooke and Semenov stretched the lead to six with 21 seconds left, and a missed shot by Ball State helped seal the victory.
Cooke finished with a game-high 20 points, while Curry had 17 and Semenov had 16.
Cooke made his presence felt on defense just as much as on the offensive end. The 6-foot-6 guard had six steals in JMU's 3-2 zone.
"I used my length to get couple deflections and I noticed it had bothered their offense," Cooke said. "And I just got more in the passing lanes, because I noticed they weren't ball faking much. I got in the passing lanes and just got some tips and some steals for my team."
The Dukes (5-9) played the game with a lot of energy and were able to scrap and hustle to make plays throughout the game. Cooke said the Dukes need to continue to play like that.
"It's definitely been stressed more," Cooke said of the Dukes' hustle. "I think we definitely need to become more of a scrappier team than we've been in the past. What you just seen out on the court is exactly how we practiced for this whole past week. Our practice showed up in the game."
Ball State (2-8) outrebounded the Dukes 37-28, but the Dukes were able to force 19 turnovers and had a 17-11 edge in points off turnovers.
Ball State was led by Majok Majok and Jesse Berry with 18 points each. Zavier Turner added 10 points for the Cardinals.
It was the second win a row for a young Dukes squad, and their third in the last four games.
"We feel like this group is turning the corner," JMU coach Matt Brady said. "I think there's kind of a calmness about this team now that they kind of have some role definition. Freshmen are getting kind of comfortable in their position on the team. They have gotten some game experience. I think a lot of the nervousness with such a young group has kind of gone away."
JMU won the CAA tournament title last year, and despite having a young team they feel confident heading into CAA play. The Dukes play at UNC-Wilmington on Saturday and then at College of Charleston on Jan. 7, before coming back home on Jan. 11 against Delaware.
"It's definitely something we've been looking forward to," Curry said of CAA play. "We know we're going to have a target on our back since we won last year. That's something the young guys have been looking forward to, and that's some we're looking forward to. It's just an exciting time and we're ready to get it started."
"You take a look around the league and it doesn't look like anybody's running away from this league, and so we feel it can be us," Brady said. "We can be right in the middle of it. Next week's a big deal. We play two games on the road, and we have to continue to get better."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com