JMU Men’s Basketball Heads Into Final Road Trip Firing on All Cylinders

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Daniel Merriman

JMU men’s basketball (24-3, 11-3 SBC) defeated Georgia Southern (5-22, 5-9 SBC) in a close contest Saturday, winning 87-80. JMU (24-3,11-3 SBC). The Eagles wouldn’t go away, making really tough shots all night. Regardless, the Dukes weathered the storm through clutch shot making and solid defense.

The Dukes finish their regular season with a home record of 14-1, only losing to App State inside the Atlantic Union Bank Center. They also tied the record for most regular season wins in school history with four games to go in the season. Here’s what I took away from this Senior Night affair. 

Tale of the tape

JMU’s offense started incredibly slow in the first half, as the Dukes shot a pedestrian 32% from the field and 0-7 from three point range. Good hustle and free-throw shooting (previously an area of inconsistency for the Dukes) kept them in this game for the first 20 minutes.

In the second half, both teams were blazing hot offensively, even with stout defensive pressure. James Madison forced Georgia Southern into some incredibly tough shots. However, the Eagles made 64% of their shots in the second half. 

Terrence Edwards shined on his Senior Night, posting 19 points on 4-6 shooting from 3. T.J. Bickerstaff added in 16 points, too. With their performances, the Dukes managed to withstand Georgia Southern’s constant offensive attack and were able to pull away with key plays in the second half. 

While the Eagles’ record is subpar, they’re in the top half of the Sun Belt in offensive efficiency in league games, per KenPom.

Raekwon Horton’s second-half steal, save, and timeout combo comes to mind as a turning point in the game. The key defensive play helped generate momentum and even earned an energetic high five from head coach Mark Byington.

“To me, that was the play of the game … Raekwon’s play today was huge,” Byington said.

Home court advantage

The Dukes finished the year averaging 5,280 people per contest held at the AUBC. That’s an increase of 23% from last year’s attendance.

This program is in good position for future fan engagement, having the 2nd and 3rd most attended games in the AUBC’s history this year. The only spot higher than the Radford and App State contests was when UVA came to town in 2021.

There will be the usual questions this offseason as far as roster construction (the Dukes are set to lose several key contributors). Keeping Mark Byington could also be a challenge, depending on how the Dukes finish the season, but the future is incredibly bright for JMU’s men’s basketball the rest of this season and beyond.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Three Notch’d Brewing for their advertising support.

Dukes’ depth 

The depth of this JMU squad is astounding for the mid-major level. JMU has the ability to go nine deep whenever needed. Every key contributor coming off the bench does different things for JMU.

Jaylen Carey gives an interior presence and quality playmaking at the 5 spot. Bryant Randleman is a solid defensive combo guard who is shooting a career high 42.9% from deep (on incredibly limited volume).

Last but certainly not least, Horton is one of the best role players in all of mid-major basketball. He leads the team in steals as well as being a capable shooter from 3 (32.1%). Horton is an excellent rebounder for his position and a phenomenal defender, too. His effectiveness has been instrumental to this team’s success all year.

“Raekwon is by far one of the best role players in the country,” Edwards said. “We got him coming off the bench which makes our team 10 times better.”

Road dogs

JMU plays its final four contests on the road to finish this season. JMU will be battle tested after having to play six neutral and away site games in a row prior to a possible SBC Championship game. However, JMU’s players have thrived on the road throughout this year. 

“We want it,” Julien Wooden said. “We like playing on the road.”

Xavier Brown echoed those thoughts.

“We become tougher on the road,” Brown said. “Everybody is screaming … We embrace it.”

JMU faces Marshall, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and Coastal Carolina before heading to Pensacola, Florida, for the Sun Belt Championship. The Dukes are currently tied for second in the conference standings, and they’re well-positioned to be a top-4 seed in the tournament.

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