Four of the Colonial Athletic Association's best senior guards will lead their respective squads into Monday night's 7 p.m. championship game as James Madison faces Northeastern on national TV on NBC Sports Network.
Third-seeded JMU (19-14) will be making its first appearance in the CAA Championship game since 1997 and won its only league title in 1994. Regular season champion Northeastern (20-11) makes its first showing in the title game and seeks its first conference tournament championship since 1991 in the America East.
***NOTE: The first 500 JMU students through the 5th Street entrance will receive free admission. After the first 500, all student tickets are $5.50. JMU is providing bus transportation for $5 (which incudes ride and ticket) for students, but has filled its allotted six buses. More info will be shared later if we are able to provide additional buses. There will be no official, private pregame function. Instead, fans are encouraged to gather at T-Miller's Sports Bar in the Richmond Marriott***
For JMU, senior guards Devon Moore and A.J. Davis have combined for 70 of JMU's 130 points in two tournament games. Moore connected on two free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining to cap JMU's frenetic late comeback against Delaware for the 58-57 win.
The Dukes overcame a decisive disadvantage in rebounding (45-27) with gritty play on both ends as freshman Andre Nation came up with five blocks to add to his 12-point, four-rebound evening. Madison forced 16 turnovers as a team with 11 steals.
As stunning as JMU's wild finish with the last seven points may have been, Northeastern advanced in an even more improbable fashion, topping George Mason 69-67. The Huskies failed to score for nearly the first 10 minutes of the game and trailed 28-4 and 31-7 late in the first half. However, NU used a 12-0 run to close the half and scored the first nine of the second half for 21 unanswered points to cut it to three.
From that point forward, the Huskies kept the game close until rallying from behind again in the closing minutes. With the game tied, senior guard Jonathan Lee drove for the winning layup in the final seconds.
Perhaps more amazing than the 31-7 lead it surrendered, George Mason shot 79 percent (15-for-19) in the second half and lost as NU forced 20 turnovers and hit 15-of-19 second-half free throws compared to 4-for-4 for the Patriots.
Lee and fellow senior guard Joel Smith keyed the offense with 14 points apiece while Lee added five boards, three assists and three steals. Demetrius Pollard was one of few Huskies to find first-half success and finished with 13 points while Quincy Ford added 10 points, six boards and three steals.
The teams met just once this season with freshman guard David Walker hitting a fadeaway baseline jumper in the final seconds for a 66-64 NU win just a few weeks ago, Feb. 20, in Boston. The Huskies lead the Dukes 11-3 all-time, the best mark among all CAA squads against JMU.
The matchup means that the CAA will crown a team other than VCU, Old Dominion, George Mason or UNCW as league champion for the first time since 1998. JMU's two wins in this year's tournament matched its total for the previous 10 years combined.