RICHMOND, Va. – It had been 19 years since James Madison's men's basketball team won a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Dukes and their six seniors went into the Colonial Athletic Association championship with one chance to change it.
They wasted no time doing that in decisive fashion, fueling an early 23-1 run in the first 13 minutes that gave them command and withstanding a furious rally by Northeastern in a 70-57 victory Monday night at the Richmond Coliseum.
"That's what seniors do," said Rayshawn Goins, who scored 13 of his 14 points by halftime and grabbed 13 rebounds. "Seniors rise to the occasion. We just wanted to come out and kind of step on them and keep our foot on the pedal."
Goins had nine points during the big run, which gave the Dukes a 26-6 lead with 7 minutes left in the half. He had help, too. Fellow senior Alioune Diouf (five points) and A.J. Davis (four) chipped in during the run, and point guard Devon Moore finished it with a stick-back.
But Goins was the key, coach Matt Brady said.
"We rode him for the first half. We just kind of jumped on his back," Brady said.
Davis scored 17 of his 26 points before halftime, and the third-seeded Dukes (20-14) won their conference tournament for the first time since 1994 — also the last time the team got a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
"It's amazing," said Goins, the championship trophy at his side. "Words can't explain it."
Jonathan Lee led the regular-season champion Huskies (20-12) with 14 points, all in the second half, and David Walker and Marc Banegas-Flores had 10 each. Northeastern rallied from a 31-7 deficit to beat George Mason 69-67 in the closing seconds of their semifinal matchup on a lay-in by Lee on Sunday, but couldn't pull off another comeback one night later.
"All of a sudden you looked up and it was deja vu all over again," Huskies coach Bill Coen said.
The Huskies, who haven't been to the NCAAs since 1991, closed to 51-43 with 8:23 to go, but a foul that disqualified their scoring leader, Joel Smith, also put Andre Nation on the line with three shots, changing the momentum.
"I thought we really had a shot there," Coen said of the 25-11 run to start the half by his team.
After a timeout, Nation made all three shots, sparking a 10-3 run that settled down the Dukes and they cruised.
"If you've followed our scores, there's not been very many game where, with a minute thirty to go, we're not hanging on every bounce of the ball," Brady said.
The Huskies, who had played one fewer game in the tournament because of a first-round bye, closed to 61-50 on a 3-pointer by Walker with 4 minutes left but got no closer, leaving them with a spot in the NIT.
Northeastern's comeback against George Mason had been the largest in the 93-year history of the program, so the start to Monday's game seemed a bit shocking and proved decisive.
After Smith opened the game with a 3-pointer for the Huskies, Davis answered for the Dukes and an inside basket by Reggie Spencer gave Northeastern a 5-3 lead. By the time the Huskies got their next field goal, nearly 13 minutes had elapsed and they trailed 28-11. Two more baskets by Goins made it 32-11 and a 3-pointer by Davis a short time later made it 35-13.
The Dukes led 40-18 at halftime — and then it just seemed a matter of hanging on.
The Huskies' 25-11 run to start the second half, which featured all of Lee's points, made it interesting, but the foul on Nation, the timeout and his three free throws settled the Dukes again.
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