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No. 19 James Madison wary of 7-7 Southern Miss

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After surviving the opener of a tough road trip on Thursday, No. 19 James Madison moves onto the second leg as it visits Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon in Hattiesburg, Miss.

It will be the second game in less than 48 hours for the Dukes (14-0, 2-0 Sun Belt), who are riding a program-record winning streak and enter the weekend as one of three unbeaten teams in Division I along with No. 3 Houston and No. 22 Ole Miss.

Meanwhile, Southern Miss (7-7, 1-1) is the defending regular season champion in the Sun Belt but is off to an uneven start.

James Madison kept its perfect start intact with a 68-61 win Thursday at Louisiana. The Dukes employed a familiar formula, rallying in the second half to end the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 19-game home winning streak.

In five of its six road wins, James Madison has trailed at some point of the second half. T.J. Bickerstaff (14 points, 11 rebounds) scored half of the points in a 14-0 run that put the Dukes ahead for good.

Then in the final 1:50, after Louisiana pulled to within one point, Noah Freidel buried two jumpers, one a 3-pointer, to keep the Dukes in command.

“Sun Belt, road, it’s not easy,” James Madison coach Mark Byington said. “I told the guys, all we got are each other. I think we had two parents here. This whole place was against us.”

Nothing seems to come easy for the Dukes. They went up 54-44 with less than nine minutes left as Terrence Edwards Jr. (19 points, six rebounds, five assists) hit a 3-pointer. But after that, James Madison missed its next 10 shots, allowing Louisiana to rally.

Afterward, Byington breathed a sigh of relief and recalled a similar road trip scenario that he will use as a cautionary tale as the Dukes prepare for Saturday.

In January 2023, James Madison fell at Southern Miss 83-70, less than 48 hours after edging Troy in overtime.

“We’re deja vu all over again,” Byington said. “We’ve got to move on quick because we know it’s a challenge with (Southern Miss).”

The Golden Eagles are searching for their identity. In their conference opener on Dec. 30, they were crushed at previously winless Georgia Southern, 88-67.

But on Thursday, the Golden Eagles rebounded with a 79-73 win at home over Georgia State as Austin Crowley scored 25 points and Andre Curbelo tallied 13 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

It was the first triple-double for a Southern Miss player since 1980 and it came from a player who was ineligible for the Golden Eagles’ first 10 games. That was before the NCAA granted Curbelo, a former player at Illinois and St. John’s, a waiver to play.

“It is very ironic that just a few weeks ago, the mood around here was that he wouldn’t be eligible,” Southern Miss coach Jay Ladner said. “He makes a big difference for our team and now we gotta build that chemistry and cohesiveness around him.”

Saturday will be the first time a ranked team has visited Southern Miss since 2011 when No. 22 UCF traveled to Hattiesburg and fell to the Golden Eagles, 86-69.

–Field Level Media

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