Richmond, VA – VCU opened the game outscoring James Madison 27-14 over the first ten minutes. Then their inconsistent offensive play persisting throughout the game. VCU was still able to pick up their seventh victory of the season winning a hard-fought game of runs 82-81.
The Rams established their high energy attacking defensive play early in the first half, forcing five JMU turnovers in the first four minutes. VCU limited the Dukes to five shots in the span while taking 11. JMU could not handle the Rams defense during an eight-minute span, failing to knock down a field goal. The Rams took advantage and went on a 12-2 run, led by sophomore guard Tre Clark’s five points.
During that stretch, the Dukes missed eight consecutive field goal attempts and five free throws. With both teams struggling throughout the first half, the Rams picked up the pace behind the scoring of Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland the 6-3 sophomore from Wilmington, Delaware. Hyland knocked down a jumper to give VCU a 13-9 lead and started a 6-0 run.
JMU bounced back behind the play of Matt Lewis, a 6-5 senior from Woodbridge, Virginia, who hit two free throws to cut the deficit down to 17-12. Late in the first half, VCU led James Madison by as many as 21 points. With under a minute to play in the game the Dukes clawed back within three.
Michael Christmas, a 6-6, 225-pound sophomore forward from Virginia Beach, Virginia, spearheaded the run with a 3-pointer and added a layup of his own to spur the Dukes’ offense. The sophomore forward would end the game with 15 points.
On the ensuing VCU possession, Hyland missed a 3-pointer, but was bailed out by a Corey Douglas offensive rebound. Junior forward Vince Williams then drained a contested, step back jumper from the left elbow with 41 seconds to go. Williams’ jumper would push the VCU advantage to five points.
More crucially, VCU gained a two-possession lead that it would never relinquish. A last-second foul on a missed 3-pointer cut the deficit to one point, but VCU was able to hold on and secure the one-point victory.
Leading the way for VCU was Vince Williams, who scored a team-high 15 points and corralled eight rebounds. Williams also picked up three steals and three assists in 33 minutes of action.
James Madison found themselves with a double-digit deficit for much of the game. That is, until a 9-0 run by the Dukes trimmed the deficit to 77-74 with 1:34 to play behind the play of Lewis who led the charge for the Dukes with a game-high 21 points. Lewis has been James Madison most consistent performer. The senior guard has scored over 20 points in half of James Madison’s games this season.
Despite Hyland who was whistled for four fouls in the game, including a technical in the first half which minimized his effectiveness as he played only 11 minutes in the half. But he continued his hot start to the season, in the second half finishing the game scoring 15 points. However, Hyland had a below-average night from deep, connecting only once from 3-point range on six attempts.
VCU’s aggressiveness was noticeable. KeShawn Curry, the 6-4 junior guard played in his first game since he injured his shoulder in the loss to Penn State earlier this month. Curry showed his versatility and toughness throughout the game scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor in 14 minutes of play. Curry’s defensive effects was also a key in the game as well.
A couple of freshmen that stood out were starting point guard Ace Baldwin, 6-1 guard from Baltimore, Maryland dished out a career-high 10 assists. Jamir Watkins, a talented 6-7 forward from Trenton, New Jersey scored nine points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field on his way to nine points in 18 minutes of play off the bench.
The Dukes did not go away quietly. Despite trailing by double-digits for much of the evening, the game never felt out of reach for James Madison, and they were able to capitalize late to put the game within one possession. James Madison shot better percentages from the floor and from deep in this game. The Dukes hustle and all out play forced VCU into 17 turnovers, including 10 in the second half. Those errors are what helped the Dukes get back in the game.
Despite allowing a season-high 81 points, VCU’s defense continued to shine on Tuesday. VCU won the turnover battle, albeit by an 18-17 margin, and led JMU in points off turnovers. With the win, VCU ends the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 7-2 record. The Rams will take a week off for Christmas before moving into A10 conference play against Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 30.
The Rams shot 45 percent from the field and JMU shot 46 percent. Both teams struggled from the 3-point line, VCU shooting 27 percent while JMU shot 31 percent.