Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Late in the first half, men’s basketball led James Madison by as many as 21 points. With under a minute to play, the Dukes clawed back within three.
The Rams were able to survive the Dukes second half surge and won 82-81 to close out the non-conference slate at the Stuart C. Siegel Center on Tuesday evening.
“The second half taught us to finish games,” junior guard KeShawn Curry said. “Don’t let your opponent come back, and don’t allow them to get easy baskets.”
The JMU surge will serve as a motivator heading into Atlantic 10 play, freshman guard Ace Baldwin said.
“Next game, we know for sure that’s not going to happen, so I’ll use that as motivation,” Baldwin said.
VCU turned the ball over 17 times, including 10 in the second half. Those errors are what helped the Dukes get back in it, coach Mike Rhoades said
“I also thought we hurt ourselves at times today,” Rhoades said. “I give them credit for not quitting, but we helped them a little bit with some undisciplined plays.”
The Rams established their Havoc defense 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 couldn’t handle the Rams’ defense during more than 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 the stretch, the Dukes missed eight consecutive field goal attempts and five free throws.
The Rams started 3-of-15 from deep in the first half, but freshman forward Jamir Watkins nailed two. The reigning A-10 rookie of the week finished the contest with the pair of 3-pointers en route to scoring 9 points.
VCU went on a run again, this time late in the first half, out scoring the Dukes 10-0. During the run, the black and gold forced four JMU turnovers in just over two minutes of play.
The Dukes finished on a 6-0 run over the last minute of the first half, pulling within 15.
Havoc forced 14 JMU first-half turnovers, scoring 17 points off the errors.
The Rams and Dukes traded blows to start the second half, countering each other with made baskets.
“We let up 50 points in the second half, so that could have been better,” Baldwin said of VCU’s defense. “This is our first time coming out slow in the second half. We never played like that.”
Curry, who missed five games with a shoulder injury, exploded in the second half to score 11 of his 13 points.
“It just felt good to be back out there playing with my teammates,” Curry said. “Seeing them smile, enjoying [themselves], running up and down and playing with my teammates. In the second half, I was just being me.”
Late in the second half, the Rams went cold. They didn’t record a field goal for over three minutes, allowing the Dukes to pull within 11 points.
The Dukes clawed back late in the second half, going on a 10-0 run to pull within three. The Rams were able to stave off the comeback attempt with a fadeaway jumper from junior forward Vince Williams to push the lead to five.
The Rams shot 45% from the field, while holding JMU to 46%. Both teams struggled from the 3-point line, VCU shooting 27% and JMU shooting 31%.
The Rams travel to Philadelphia to face Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 30 at noon to kick off A-10 play. The game will be televised on NBC Sports Washington and ESPN+.