Early on in Wednesday night's NCAA Tournament matchup between LIU-Brooklyn and James Madison, a blackbird was spotted flying around Dayton Arena. Apparently the bird had arrived to warn its LIU brethren of their imminent doom. Unfortunately for this soothsaying bird, he was too late.
By the time the bird's presence was felt by his fellow Blackbirds, they had already fallen behind by 12 points to the Dukes. JMU was able to lean heavily on strong three-point shooting in the first nine minutes, hitting four from behind the arc to build a 20-8 lead and forcing an LIU timeout.
However, by halftime, the Blackbirds had narrowed the gap to just one point, taking advantage of a slowing JMU offense and emphasizing team play after Jamal Olasewere took a seat with three fouls. They even managed to rassle a lead out of the Dukes in the second half, going up 40-39 with 15:02 remaining.
Yet while LIU had reclaimed the lead on the scoreboard, there was no question all night which team was dominating play. James Madison's stalwart defense, which was second the CAA this season, held the Blackbirds to their lowest point total of the season, which was 24 points lower than their season average. As I mentioned my preview, this game would either kill LIU's offense or JMU's defense.
We all know defense wins championships; apparently it wins play-in games, too.
But the Dukes still had to score points in order to capitalize on their defensive prowess. In that category, A.J. Davis stepped up in a big way, scoring 20 points with 47.62 scoring efficiency, staying even with Olasewere on the offensive end. That was the big matchup offensively, and Davis was able to neutralize Olasewere's effect on the game, which opened the floor for Andre Nation.
Andre Nation, folks, had one helluva game.
Coming into the game averaging just 8.1 points and 2.9 rebounds each night, the freshman absolutely exploded on the national stage, scoring 14 points, snagging seven rebounds, and adding five blocks and four assists to round out his career evening.
If we're talking strictly emotional contribution, Nation was JMU's sparkplug, bringing the bench to their collective feet with each extraordinary block and defensive play. He played the biggest role of any Duke in building them a 10-1 block advantage by the end of the night.
And, of course, the storyline going into the game was how JMU's Rayshawn Goins, coming off his arrest on Sunday evening, would fare after being suspended for the first half.
Goins wasn't fabulous offensively, putting up just four points, but his presence in the paint was felt heavily. In the first twenty minutes, the Dukes grabbed just four offensive rebounds; with five minutes remaining in the second half, they had already picked up seven. In just 12 minutes of play time, Goins was able to grab eight rebounds, the highest total on his team and the second-highest in the game on either side.
All of that said, it's not that LIU-Brooklyn necessarily played a poor game. It was just evident that JMU came with a defensive purpose, they executed it to perfection, and then they executed on the offensive end as well.
James Madison now faces Indiana on Friday in the Round of 64. Good luck, Dukes. You'll need it.