JMU Men’s Basketball Beats Texas State, Advances to SBC Championship

Image courtesy of the Sun Belt Conference

By Bennett Conlin

At the end of every JMU men’s basketball practice, Noah Freidel, Xavier Brown, and Julien Wooden play games of “free throw golf” against each other. The competitive game simulates a pressure-packed moment.

“There’s always pressure,” Brown said. “I’ve only won once or twice.”

The practice paid off Sunday night in Pensacola, Florida, and it’s safe to say Freidel and Brown were both winners at the free-throw line.

Freidel and Brown went a perfect 6-6 at the line (all three trips to the FT line were one-and-one opportunities) in the final 30 seconds of Sunday’s SBC semifinal game against Texas State. The second-seeded Dukes survived an upset bid from the 11th-seeded Bobcats, largely due to Freidel and Brown’s clutch shooting.

The Dukes (30-3) beat Texas State 73-68 to advance to Monday night’s Sun Belt championship game. The Dukes will face fourth-seeded Arkansas State (18-15), which upset No. 1 App State, Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Freidel led the Dukes with 28 points in the win, and Brown chipped in 11. They were the only two Dukes to reach double-figure scoring, and the duo was a perfect 11-11 at the charity stripe.

It’s hard to win

JMU’s win over Texas State was its 30th victory of the year, marking the first 30-win season in JMU men’s basketball history. The Dukes also extended their nation’s longest active winning streak to 12 games.

Those wins haven’t come easily, even if some of them look easy. Sunday night’s win over Texas State was anything but easy, a staple of March basketball. With its season on the line, Texas State looked a whole lot better than the squad that went 7-11 in the Sun Belt this season.

Style points aside, a win is a win.

“We knew we had to play ball, and we had to play well” JMU head coach Mark Byington said. “Every team is fighting for the same thing. If they’re here playing this game, they earned it.”

The Dukes weren’t at their sharpest, but they competed throughout. They struggled at times defensively, but they implemented a full-court press in the final 10 minutes of the game. The defensive switched force two quick Texas State turnovers, and helped break the Bobcats’ defensive rhythm.

JMU was far from perfect, but the Dukes don’t need to be perfect to win the Sun Belt.

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

Up next

Winning a conference championship won’t come easily, as Arkansas State is playing its best basketball of the season. The Red Wolves are 9-2 since Feb. 1, beating Troy and App State during that span. One of the two losses was to JMU, which defeated Arkansas State 77-73 on Feb. 7 in Jonesboro.

Arkansas State has gifted scorers, especially at the guard positions. The Dukes will be tested defensively Monday night, as the Red Wolves have been the Sun Belt’s most efficient offensive team in conference games.

“We’ve got a chance to win a championship, just like they do,” Byington said. “We’ve got to be at our best.”

If JMU rises to the occasion and grabs the victory, the Dukes will make the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. Monday’s game is the biggest JMU men’s basketball game in years.

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