Clifford Ray Williams/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

NEW YORK — Little did we know back then, but the fleeting obsession that the college basketball world had with James Madison during the first half of the season actually resembled scenes from the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction.

And just like Glenn Close’s Alex character in the movie, the James Madison Dukes will not be ignored.

The least surprised group of people who saw the twelfth-seeded Dukes’ 72-61 victory over No. 5 seed Wisconsin inside of the Barclays Center were the James Madison players themselves, who promptly strutted over to the Dukes’ cheering section and handed out high-fives while popping their jerseys out to spectators as if some were still not aware of what school they were representing across their chest. Trying his best to play up the “12” next to his team’s name in the bracket, James Madison head coach Mark Byington tried to play up the underdog role to his team, only for his players, who has led the school to the most wins in the country of any team not named Connecticut, to know the score.

I tried to use that, I tried to use the underdog strategy as a coach on Monday in our first meeting and first practice, and they were not paying attention to me,” Byington said in the postgame press conference. “So it came to a point where I just had to take them who they are. They are an aggressive, competitive bunch. I know we were looked at as underdogs, but we never felt that way.”

At one point, however, James Madison was looked upon as the darlings of the mid majors, and it occurred just moments after they went into East Lansing on the opening day of the season and defeated then-No. 4 Michigan State on November 6. Somehow, the Dukes followed that historic win with one of the season’s viral moments, scoring five points in the final four seconds of regulation and eventually defeating Kent State in double overtime.

Fans who obsess over getting the jump on March Madness sleepers were already smitten with the Dukes, a love affair that continued through to the turn of the calendar, when a 14-0 JMU team reached No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

But as soon as that romance got steamy, the fling ended on a night in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Dukes went down to defeat for the first time, at Southern Mississippi, on January 6, a result that eventually knocked them out of the national rankings. One week later, they lost at home to the team that eventually won the Sun Belt regular season title, Appalachian State, one of two defeats suffered at the hands of the Mountaineers.

All the while, the love for mid-major excellence had shifted. Samford was blinding teams with its high-scoring, breakneck style of play dubbed “Bucky Ball,” named after its head coach, Bucky McMillan. Indiana State was ruling the Missouri Valley Conference roost with bespectacled center Robbie Avila, himself a viral sensation who had fans nicknaming him “Cream Abdul-Jabbar.”

There wasn’t a rabbit boiled in hot water waiting for those who focused their eyes elsewhere after James Madison’s rare stumbles this season, but Dukes players could not help but feel jilted.

“People forgot about us. People only knew us for a week and a half,” said Terrence Edwards Jr., the 2024 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, to A Lot of Sports Talk after the win on Friday night. “When we took that “L” in Hattiesburg at Southern Miss, everybody threw us off the radar. Everybody forgot about us.”

That perceived failure to communicate led to another feeling many develop when thinking they have been cheated on: revenge.

“We had one of the best records in the country and nobody speaks about that. So that gives us another edge,” Edwards said. “That’s why this team’s so good. We don’t care about that type of that stuff. We keep the main thing the main thing, which is basketball … We just proved to everybody why y’all should have kept talking about us.”

We all are talking about you Dukes, that’s for sure. But another win, and against a blue blood of the sport like Duke, who will be James Madison’s opponent on Sunday evening, will ensure JMU will feel nothing but love … so long as they’re willing to take back those who left them feeling abandoned in the first place.

Facebook Comments Box
Tags : College BasketballJames Madison DukesNCAA Tournament

Leave a Response