When you have been driving for five and half hours since 2:00 AM, and you only had a few hours of sleep before that, you wonder how you will stay awake for basically eight plus hours of basketball. The amazing thing is that if you get a small nap and really put your mind to it, you can make that happen. Plus watching the most exciting thing in sports, a conference basketball tournament, always gets the blood going.
When I made the walk from the parking lot to the Leigh Street entrance of the Richmond Coliseum, the adrenaline was starting to pump. I would have more than enough energy for the CAA Tournament. This was my ninth CAA Tournament, but this was going to be special.
After all the years of sitting in the stands covering games, I was sitting two rows from the court, in an assigned seat, a member of the media. Yes, my site, CollegeHardwood.Com, had finally hit press row. My first project was to go into the media room and grab as much media notes as I could for the first game. UNCW had their media notes bound with a color cover. JMU had their notes just stapled in black and white. It didn't matter to me as long as I had useful facts for my writing and also to tweet for my followers. Both media notes did the trick.
The wonderful thing about my current seat on press row for the first game was sitting near the James Madison band, the most underrated band in the CAA and has been for the nine years I have attended the CAA Tournament. They absolutely killed some songs. The UNCW band was good as well. It helped make writing my notes more pleasurable.
Before the start of the game, Drexel Coach Bruiser Flint came to scout the game JMU-UNCW game. He hadn't even found his seat before several VCU fans seated behind him started good naturedly heckling him about already working the refs.The crowd was small for the first game, especially the JMU contingent. But the bands more than made up for it. Having attended eight previous CAA tournaments, there is always something special about a conference tournament, no matter how large the crowd.
James Madison came out strong. It started with an Andrey Semenov three, which he probably didn't call bank on. Then the Dukes hit several backdoor plays to go up 13-4 early. It seemed the Seahawks were in the same funk that they were against the Pride of Hofstra, a game they lost 93-64.
But once UNCW took away the backdoor, JMU settled for outside jumpers and went cold from the field. That's when Keith Rendleman went to work in the paint. On one particular play, Rendleman missed a jumper. But the Dukes' Swindell didn't box him out. This allowed Rendleman to get the rebound and the putback. When Rendleman wasn't nailing jumpers, he was being double teamed. That allowed him to find open players like Cedrick Williams.
Led by Rendleman and Williams, the Seahawks outscored the Dukes 26-9 to take a 30-22 lead. The Seahawks dominated the late first half play. The game had now completely flipped as UNCW led by 34-25.
The second half picked up where the first half left off. A ton of second chance points for UNCW, who led James Madison in that category 26-7 for the game. The Seahawks outscored the Dukes 19-5 over the first eleven minutes. UNCW was up 53-30 and James Madison looked to be done.
It was at this point that if you were watching Matt Brady, there seemed like a sense of resignation on his face as his team struggled to get shots off against the more determined Seahawks. His hand often was on his cheek as if to say that this could be it for his tenure at Madison. His undermanned team was throttled for most of the second half. Finally, Brady looked up at the scoreboard clock with 5:14 left after UNCW called a timeout as if he wanted to see how much time he had remaining in his time as Dukes coach.
Late in the game, the VCU fans in attendance decided to amuse themselves and starting yelling comments went to Humpty Hitchens. After several barbs, Hitchens not so wisely shot a stern look back at the VCU fans. That only resulted in more comments towards Humpty. But Humpty didn't quit. He raced back on what seemed to be a breakaway fast break to knock the ball out of bounds w 30 secs left. But in a microcosm of the day for Madison, Hitchens missed both free throws.
To their credit, James Madison rallied and actually cut the lead to seven, 60-53. But UNCW made their last ten free throws and the Dukes never got closer. After Hitchens airballed a three with about twenty seconds left, Brady covered his face. He couldnt bear to watch anymore. UNCW won 70-59. Williams scored a career high twenty two points for the Seahawks.
It was a season full of so many injuries, including Brady himself tearing an ACL, after he suited up as a practice player since they had so few players due to injury. At one point, the Dukes were 7-4 and on the verge of defeating ODU at home in their second conference game of the season. The Monarchs rallied and won in overtime. Including that loss, James Madison would lose sixteen of their last twenty one games. There is a lot of speculation going around that this is Brady's last season at James Madison. At the post game press conference, Brady had hoped that the JMU administration would not base his job status on this one season. He even said that if the JMU administration judges him by just this season, he was gone.
It seems likely the end is near for Brady at James Madison.
NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON 70, JAMES MADISON 59 03/02/2012
NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON 10-20 (5-13) -- D. Morales 0-7 3-4 3; T. Milson 3-8 6-7 12; K. Rendleman 5-12 4-6 14; C. Williams 7-12 8-10 22; A. Smith 3-9 4-4 12; F. Jackson 0-1 0-0 0; S. Reybold 3-4 1-1 7. Totals 21-53 26-32 70. JAMES MADISON 12-20 (5-13) -- D. Moore 2-7 4-4 8; H. Hitchens 5-11 0-2 12; G. Swindle 3-3 1-1 7; A. Davis 2-7 4-6 9; A. Diouf 0-2 2-4 2; A. Semenov 2-5 1-4 6; A. Marks 5-12 0-0 12; E. Hood 1-3 1-2 3; C. Pierce 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-50 13-23 59.
Three-point goals: UNCW 2-11 (T. Milson 0-4; D. Morales 0-1; F. Jackson 0-1; A. Smith 2-5), JMU 6-19 (A. Semenov 1-4; A. Davis 1-3; A. Diouf 0-1; A. Hitchens 2-6; A. Marks 2-5); Rebounds: UNCW 33 (C. Williams 8), JMU 27 (A. Marks 5); Assists: UNCW 7 (K. Rendleman 3), JMU 13 (D. Moore 7); Total Fouls -- UNCW 18, JMU 28; Fouled Out: UNCW-None; JMU-A. Semenov.