Slow start dooms Dukes in loss to Northeastern

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG — James Madison played from behind all night in its game with Northeastern on Wednesday night. The Dukes battled back to make a game of it, but couldn’t get over the hump.

Northeastern led from start to finish to pick up a 56-52 win over the Dukes in Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball action at the Convocation Center.

“I thought the tone for this game was set in the first half,” JMU coach Matt Brady said. “They came out more tough-minded than we did. I thought they had some good interior passes and got some good shots at their end.”

JMU had to overcome a big obstacle to start the second half as sophomore guard Andre Nation picked up his third and fourth fouls and had to sit on the bench with 17:21 left in the game.

The Dukes (6-12, 1-3 CAA) responded with a run to cut the lead to 41-36 with 12:55 to play.

JMU was able to cut the lead to three with 5:56 left in the game on a conventional three-point play by Charles Cooke. The sophomore guard made a nice reverse layup on the play.

“I thought there was a period in the second half where we played really well, but those periods have got to get to the point where we can play for 40 minuets like we played for the middle 10 of the second half,” Brady said.

The two teams went back and forth until a layup by Nation cut the lead to 48-47 with 1:57 left in the game.

The young JMU squad has struggled all season at the end of games and the trend continued against the Huskies.

Northeastern’s David Walker hit a jumper in the corner to give the Huskies a 50-47 lead. A missed shot by Cooke led to a conventional three-point play by Demetrius Pollard with 56 seconds left.

The Dukes could pull no closer than three points the rest of the way.

“We were really fortunate tonight to hang onto the victory,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We jumped out to an early lead, and from then on I thought James Madison really put the pressure on us. We made just enough plays at the end to get the victory.”

The Dukes missed their first five shots and trailed 10-0 just over three minutes into the game.

Things didn’t get much better the rest of the first half. JMU struggled on offense and defense.

The Dukes shot only 32.1 percent from the field (9-for-28), including a dismal 1-for-10 from beyond the arc.

While JMU had trouble scoring it had even more trouble stopping Northeastern.

The Huskies (5-13, 2-2 CAA) shot 56.5 percent (13-for-23) from the field in the first half.

“We just weren’t playing hard enough,” Nation said. “We didn’t play hard at all in the first half.”

Northeastern was led by Scott Eatherton with 14 points and 11 rebounds. It was his NCAA-leading 14th double-double of the season. Pollard and Walker each added 10 points for the Huskies.

The Huskies have struggled all season in close games, and Coen said the win should be a confidence boost for his team.

“We’ve played a very difficult schedule in the non-conference,” Coen said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and with limited results, so it was important for us to win a close game. And I think that will help us going forward.”

Nation led the Dukes with 16 points, while Cooke added 14.

There was a solid crowd on hand for the game, and Nation said the team needs to play better in front of their fans.

“It’s frustrating not getting the win at home for all these fans, not getting a ‘W’ for ourselves,” Nation said. “We’re on a three-game losing streak. Right now we just need a ‘W’ to get our confidence back up so we can start playing JMU basketball.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd