Coming off James Madison's first Colonial Athletic Association tournament title since 1994 and a trip to the NCAAs, coach Matt Brady knew the beginning of this season could prove an uphill climb.
After losing to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tourney, JMU lost four starters to graduation and opened this season with its top returning scorer, sophomore point guard Andre Nation, serving a 15-game suspension for violating athletic department policy.
The result in the opener Friday night was a 61-41 loss at No. 24 Virginia, which led from the start and never looked back.
"It's not exactly what we had hoped," Brady said. "Virginia's outstanding, as good as anybody defensively in the country. They make it very difficult to get any penetration of any kind on them."
Sophomore forward Anthony Gill, a transfer from South Carolina, scored a game-high 13 points in his Virginia debut, and the 24th-ranked Cavaliers held James Madison scoreless for nearly 7 minutes in the first half.
"For 9 or 10 minutes we were hanging around, and I thought we were doing what we wanted to do defensively, but we couldn't make any shots," Brady said.
Freshman forward Tom Vodanovich led the Dukes with 11 points, but they struggled to hit perimeter shots against an aggressive Virginia defense that limited JMU to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor. James Madison made only six of its 25 shots from 3-point range and finished 15 of 48 from the field overall.
Sophomore center Mike Tobey added 10 points for Virginia and sophomore point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed last season following foot surgery, had nine for the Cavaliers. Virginia got only five points from first-team all-ACC guard Joe Harris, but nine Cavaliers scored.
Gill shot 5 for 5 from the field. Brogdon hit a trio of 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes as Virginia built a 19-point cushion.
Ron Curry had nine points, four assists and four rebounds for the Dukes, but they could not keep pace from the opening tip. JMU forward Taylor Bessick, hampered by early foul trouble, went scoreless and fouled out with 11:47 left.
"We thought that Taylor Bessick would play for more than 9 minutes. I think the rest of it is fairly fair," Brady said. "We need a couple of these guys to come off the bench and make some shots to help us there."
Virginia took a 13-5 lead 4 minutes in before JMU called a timeout.
The Dukes steadied themselves and cut the deficit to 13-10 at the 13:11 mark on a 3-pointer by Vodanovich, but Virginia's rebounding advantage (45-27) wore down JMU all night.
Virginia's perimeter shooting was spotty much of the first half, but the Cavaliers pushed their lead to 23-11 with 4:24 left on Akil Mitchell's three-point play.
The Cavaliers finished a 17-1 run to increase their lead to 30-11, with Brogdon hitting his third 3-pointer of the half. The Dukes went almost 7 minutes without scoring before Curry's 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining halted the spurt.
"We are a more balanced team this year," said coach Tony Bennett, in his fifth season at Virginia. "Guys will get shots, and I'm hoping they're going to fall. I'm not going to say we're a great shooting team, but we have guys who can get it going, and I think that can open up the game."
The Cavaliers led 32-14 at halftime and pressed their advantage early in the second half. A short drive and finger roll by Justin Anderson made it 43-21 with 13:20 left, prompting JMU to call another timeout.
Tobey's rebound and dunk off Darion Atkins' miss punctuated a run that extended Virginia's lead to 25 with 10:44 left.
JMU cut it to 48-29 with 8:17 remaining when Vodanovich and Andrey Semenov hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, but Virginia did not let the Dukes get any closer.
The frontcourt addition of Gill and the improvement of Tobey has the Cavaliers aiming for a return to the NCAA tournament after a late-season collapse relegated them to the NIT in 2012-13.
"Last year we had to go to Joe, and there was a lot of pressure on him to score for us," Tobey said. "This year we're a real deep team. It makes us a lot more of a threat offensively."