JMU Men’s Basketball Advances to Sun Belt Semifinals With Win Over Marshall

Image courtesy of the Sun Belt Conference

By Bennett Conlin

JMU men’s basketball looked the part of an NCAA Tournament team Saturday night, jumping all over Marshall in the first half and steamrolling to a 81-64 Sun Belt quarterfinal win.

The Dukes (29-3) easily defeated the Thundering Herd on a day with wacky Sun Belt Tournament results. Top-seeded App State needed overtime to get by No. 8 Georgia Southern, and No. 11 Texas State upset No. 3 Troy.

JMU had no such trouble, and the Dukes will face the 11th-seeded Bobcats tomorrow.

“The first 18 minutes, I thought we played absolutely incredible,” JMU head coach Mark Byington said. “We were ready to play.”

The Dukes have won 11 games in a row, the longest active winning streak in the country.

Dominant opening half

The Dukes opened up a 20+ point lead in the first half, as Michael Green III, Noah Freidel, and Julien Wooden splashed early 3-pointers. T.J. Bickerstaff was nearly unstoppable down low pushing for a double-double in the first half (8 points and 7 rebounds) and finishing the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Sun Belt Player of the Year Terrence Edwards finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. He showed his versatility, scoring when the Dukes needed key baskets and finding his teammates with quality passes.

“We’re undefeated when he has five or more assists,” Byington said.

Byington is correct, as JMU is a perfect 10-0 when Edwards racks up at least five dimes. Green, Freidel, Wooden, Edwards, and Bickerstaff all finished with double-figure scoring totals, as Saturday’s win featured an array of offensive talent.

Defensively, JMU excelled. The Dukes held the Thundering Herd to 39.7% shooting and forced 13 turnovers. Marshall never seemed to find an offensive rhythm two days after dropping 86 on Georgia State.

It was a clinical performance by JMU. Even though Marshall made a few small runs in the second half, the Dukes led by at least 10 points for the final 31 minutes of game time.

Up next

JMU faces Texas State on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET with a spot in the Sun Belt Championship on the line. The game will stream on ESPN+.

While the Bobcats are the No. 11 seed, the number by their name is slightly deceiving. They’re playing their best basketball of the season, winning 10 of their last 13 games. They’re 3-0 against App State and Troy during that span.

Playing in JMU’s favor, however, is the Bobcats’ path to this point. They’ve already played three conference tournament games, including an overtime win. They’ll likely feel at least some fatigue Sunday, as four games in six days can wear any team out.

JMU won the lone regular season meeting between the teams, defeating the Bobcats 82-65 in Harrisonburg on Dec. 30. Byington doesn’t put much stock into that game.

“The first time we played them is irrelevant,” Byington said. “I think it was the first game after Christmas coming back. We know they’re not the same team, and I don’t think we’re the same team. It’s going to be a challenge tomorrow for us to be at our best.”

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

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