GAME NOTES: James Madison shoots for back-to-back wins for the first time this season, as the Dukes engage with the UNC Greensboro Spartans in non-conference action at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The Dukes have had a lot of trouble putting together strong efforts from one game to the next, and have just three wins in 11 opportunities to show for their work. On the bright side, JMU did manage to snap a six-game slide on Saturday with an 84-69 triumph over High Point on the road. Of the team's 11 contests, all but one have been away from home.
As for the Spartans, they've celebrated only one win in the last four outings, a 75-70 final over Claflin, a school in South Carolina that has an enrollment of less than 2,000, back on Dec. 11. Three days later it was back to the loss column for UNCG, as the squad tumbled against Rutgers, 89-72, on the road.
The Dukes have won all five previous meetings between the schools, and that includes an 85-73 final last season in Virginia.
The Dukes trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half against High Point, down by five at the break, but in the second half the defense locked down on the hosts as they shot just 31.3 percent from the floor and 1-of-11 beyond the arc. Charles Cooke tallied a game-high 25 points for JMU, leading five players in double figures, with Andrey Semenov coming up with 16 points and a team-best eight rebounds. Taylor Bessick tacked on 11 points, and both Ron Curry and Jackson Kent pitched in 10 points apiece.
The leading scorer in four straight outings for the slumping Dukes, Cooke is responsible for 16.0 ppg thanks in large part to his 65-of-82 (.793) effort at the free-throw line. Cooke is shooting only 40.7 percent from the field and a disappointing 28.2 percent beyond the arc, the latter actually better than the team's overall level of accuracy on the perimeter (.256). Semenov (12.3 ppg) and Ron Curry (10.8 ppg) also add to the offensive assault, but the squad is still only producing 62.6 ppg, compared to the 69.5 ppg being put up by the competition.
UNCG's two-point lead in the opening moments of the meeting with the Scarlet Knights was quickly lost as the Spartans fell behind by 19 at the break and 23 early in the season half of the 17-point decision at the RAC. Kyle Cain tried to give the visitors a fighting chance with his 18 points and eight rebounds, followed by Tevon Saddler and Kayel Locke with 13 and 11 points, respectively, but the former helped to dig the team a huge hole due to his eight turnovers.
Cain, a 53.3 percent shooter from the floor, has been a solid performer in the paint for the Spartans, both in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). Saddler checks in with 12.7 ppg and is first on the unit with 38 assists over the course of his 11 appearances, but he has also turned the ball over 54 times for a squad that is posting a solid 75.1 ppg, but at the same time giving up 77.8 ppg.
The road-weary Dukes have never lost to UNCG and while the Spartans are far from a dominating force this year, there's reason to believe that the hosts could come away with the win tonight as long as they keep their mistakes to a minimum.
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