Among the bottom four teams in the league for much of the season, JMU's 65-59 victory over Towson on Saturday improving its record to 12-19 overall and 5-13 in the CAA and lifted the Dukes into a tie for eighth place. JMU claimed the tiebreaker thanks to its January 70-61 win at UNCW.
Entering their fourth CAA Championship under head coach Matt Brady, the Dukes have been seeded seventh, 11th, sixth and now eighth in the last four years. Madison is 2-3 in tournament play with Brady, winning first round games in 2009 and 2010 before a four-point loss in last year's first round against William and Mary. Those are the only wins for JMU in tournament play over the last eight years (2-8). The most recent tournament win for the Dukes came in 2010 against Drexel (77-65), the team Madison will face with a win Friday.
JMU has twice previously entered the CAA Championship as the No. 8 seed. In the final season of a 10-team field in 2005, eighth-seeded JMU fell to ninth-seeded William and Mary 68-54. The only other occasion came in the first year of the CAA's creation in 1986 as No. 8 JMU fell on the home court of No. 1 Navy, which featured center David Robinson.
Against Towson, redshirt junior forward Andrey Semenov led the Dukes with 12 points and nine rebounds. Freshman forward Enoch Hood helped pace the offense with 11 points and five rebounds, while junior guard Alioune Diouf chipped in with nine points.
Free-throws down the stretch allowed the Dukes to rally and overcome an 11-point deficit in the second half to claim the win. JMU converted 20-of-29 free-throws on the afternoon, in which 6-of-8 of came in the final minute of the game. Towson built a 29-23 lead at the half and carried that momentum into the second, scoring the first five points to extend their lead to 34-23. JMU used a 5-0 run to cut the Tigers' lead to six before Towson pushed its lead back up to nine. The Dukes took control of the game on an 11-0 offensive run that lasted over four minutes long. The Tigers managed to get back within three with 45 seconds remaining, before JMU secured the win at the charity stripe. The Dukes collectively shot 40 percent from the field while managing to outscore Towson 27-9 in bench points. Madison had a 35-34 rebounding edge after being outrebounded by 30 at Towson two weeks earlier.
UNCW enters tournament play with an overall record of 9-20 and league mark of 5-13. The Seahawks have lost six in a row, 10-of-11 and 13-of-15 following a 3-1 league start in early January.
UNCW suffered a 93-64 loss against Hofstra on Saturday in both teams' season finale. The loss dropped the Seahawks' record to 9-20 overall and 5-13 in CAA competition. Junior forward Keith Rendleman led UNCW with 16 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore guard Tanner Milson contributed 11 points to round out the offense.
On a roster dominated by freshmen, UNCW has relied heavily upon its inside/outside tandem of Rendleman and freshman guard Adam Smith. Rendleman ranks fifth in the league in average points per game with 15.6 and ranks second in rebounding with 10.5 boards per game. Smith has had an impressive rookie campaign, averaging 14 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the field.
For JMU, junior forward Andrey Semenov has recently stepped up his game, as he has led JMU in scoring in three of the last four games, averaging 16.2 points per game. Junior A.J. Davis continues to be an offensive threat for the Dukes as he has been all season, averaging a team-high 16.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field. Senior guard Hitchens, the only senior in the starting lineup, averages 15 points per game, while shooting an average of 42 percent from the field. Junior guard Devon Moore has been averaging 7.4 assists per game over the last five games and needs just six assists to form the fifth set of teammates in program history with 100 assists in a season (Hitchens 108).
JMU won the previous meeting between the two programs on January 18, 2012 in Wilmington, N.C. by a score of 69-61. Hitchens registered a career-high 27 points in the victory, while Davis added 18 points and eight rebounds. The Dukes used a 9-0 run in the final minutes to secure the win. JMU shot 46.6 percent from the field while limiting the Seahawks to just 40 percent. That game was played with UNCW head coach Buzz Peterson serving a league-manded
UNCW leads the all-time series 32-29 vs. JMU, though the Dukes are 4-1 under head coach Matt Brady. Madison had lost 14 meetings in a row from 2001 to 2007 before claiming five of the last seven. The teams have met six times in the CAA Tournament with the Seahawks holding a 4-2 advantage, including 3-2 in games at the Richmond Coliseum. Most recently, UNCW has won each of the last three matchups: 44-41 in 2004, 78-62 in 2002 and 61-55 in 1997. The Seahawks also won in 1989 in Hampton (80-70) while JMU won in its 1994 title year (91-78) and in 1997 (60-57),