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A collision of win streaks: No. 19 James Madison vs. Louisiana

a-collision-of-win-streaks:-no-19-james-madison-vs.-louisiana

Since joining the Sun Belt Conference last season, No. 19 James Madison has won more games than any team in the league.

But the Dukes can’t get too comfortable. On Thursday night, James Madison (13-0, 1-0) will make its first-ever visit to Lafayette, La., to take on Louisiana (7-6, 0-1), and two winning streaks will collide — the Dukes’ program-record 13-game run and the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 19-game home roll.

James Madison’s top scorer, Terrence Edwards Jr. (17.2 points per game), expects a hostile atmosphere because the Dukes will become the first ranked team to play in the Cajundome since 2006.

“It doesn’t make us nervous. It makes us want to play,” Edwards said. “It’s packed, everybody looking at us and expecting us to lose. It gives us an edge.”

The Dukes are 5-0 in true road games, opening the season by stunning then-No. 4 Michigan State in overtime, 79-76. Three days later, James Madison snapped Kent State’s 23-game home winning streak with a 113-108 victory in double overtime.

“I feel like it stamped what we are and how we play,” forward T.J. Bickerstaff said of the Dukes’ November road trip.

In James Madison’s lone meeting with Louisiana last year, on Feb. 18, the Dukes won 74-68 in Harrisonburg, Va.

It was the final league loss of the season for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who went on to win the conference tournament, capturing a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they fell in the opening round to fourth-seeded Tennessee, 58-55.

A year later, the Dukes and Ragin’ Cajuns are transformed. James Madison has become one of the oldest teams in the nation, adding graduate transfers Bickerstaff (Boston College) and Michael Green III (Robert Morris) to join fifth-year players Noah Freidel and Julien Wooden in the starting lineup.

While Bickerstaff averages 16.2 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds per game, Green has given the Dukes a backcourt playmaking force, averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 assists.

Louisiana is paced by Sun Belt scoring leader Kobe Julien (18.6 points per game), who is thriving in his sixth college season in a career that has been plagued by injuries.

The Ragin’ Cajuns also depend on holdovers Themus Fulks (11.3 points, 4.5 assists per game) and Joe Charles (11.2 points, 9.2 rebounds per game).

Louisiana is the Sun Belt’s most accurate 3-point shooting team at 37.8 percent, with Kentrell Garnett (42.9 percent) and Julien (40.6 percent) as the top long-range threats.

“Defending champs, great team, great coach, great environment,” Dukes coach Mark Byington said.

Byington was speaking Saturday after James Madison’s 82-65 victory at home over Texas State, a win that was led by Bickerstaff (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists).

Meanwhile, at Marshall on Saturday, Louisiana lost its Sun Belt opener 75-61 as the Ragin’ Cajuns made only 5 of 22 shots from beyond the arc.

Considering the Ragin’ Cajuns are playing five of their first seven conference games on the road, they’ll be happy to be home on Thursday.

“The Sun Belt schedule is what it is,” coach Bob Marlin said. “That makes for a tough start.”

–Field Level Media

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