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No. 20 James Madison aims to resume hot start vs. Texas State

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No. 20 James Madison was ready for some time off after winning four games — including three on the road — in a span of 13 days to protect its perfect record and first ranking in program history.

“This is difficult, more than people think of what we’re going through, the mental part, the physical exhaustion, the pressure,” Dukes coach Mark Byington said after an 89-75 win at Morgan State on Dec. 22. “We need this break. We need it badly.”

With seven full days off between games, James Madison (12-0) looks to be refreshed for its Sun Belt Conference opener against Texas State (6-6) on Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg, Va.

While the Dukes are one of three Division I teams that remain undefeated, their nonconference slate has been draining and stressful. They have played five true road games and two others in Mexico.

On Dec. 22 in Baltimore, the strain showed as Morgan State rallied from 14 points down to take a two-point lead nearly 7 1/2 minutes into the second half.

“Not every win has had the same script. We’ve found different ways,” Byington said. “We’re still a work in progress. We’re trying to figure things out. I know we can get better. I know we can get a lot better.”

Now James Madison turns its attention to the Sun Belt. By a vote of the league’s 14 coaches in the preseason, the Dukes were picked as the Sun Belt favorite in just their second year in the conference.

Appalachian State (9-3), which was voted the preseason runner-up, is off to a strong start — including a win over Auburn. The Dukes play the Mountaineers on Jan. 13 and Jan. 27.

Texas State is James Madison’s concern on Saturday. The Bobcats were thrashed in their last outing by No. 3 Houston, 72-37, on Dec. 21.

Houston scored the game’s first 10 points and Texas State never made a serious run at the lead.

Against the top scoring defense in Division I, the Bobcats committed 27 turnovers and made just 28.9 percent of their shots from the floor and were 2-of-15 shooting (13.3 percent) from beyond the arc.

Texas State’s top scorer, Jordan Mason, had a season-low six points, which is 9.5 short of his average.

Brandon Love, Dylan Dawson and Kaden Gumbs, who all entered the game averaging in double figures, combined to hit 4 of 20 shots and committed 14 turnovers.

“This is clearly the best defensive team in the country,” said Texas State fourth-year coach Terrence Johnson of Houston, who directed the Bobcats to Sun Belt regular season titles in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

As impressed as Johnson was with the Houston defense, he’ll see the top-scoring offense in Division I in James Madison (92.6 points per game).

Against Morgan State, Terrence Edwards Jr. matched his career high with 29 points. He also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career.

James Madison also has received key contributions in recent games from its increasingly potent bench.

This month, Jaylen Carey (16 points versus Keystone), Xavier Brown (17 points at Hampton) and Raekwon Horton (16 points at Morgan State) either have achieved or matched their career highs.

–Field Level Media

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