NEWARK – It was such a small thing.
A pair of Delaware players got caught switching the men they were guarding on a basic inbounds play.
But the result was huge.
Andre Nation was somehow left all alone under the basket and all the freshman had to do was dunk home the winning points with only one second left to give James Madison a stunning 72-71 victory over the Blue Hens in a Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball showdown at the Carpenter Center on Sunday night.
With one second on the clock, Devon Moore made the short inbound lob to the 6-foot-5 Nation from underneath the Dukes’ basket. Delaware still had 0.6 seconds left after the basket but Carl Baptiste’s length-of-the-court pass sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
Guards Devon Saddler and Kyle Anderson were the two Hens who got caught switching at just the wrong moment. Anderson followed JMU’s A.J. Davis to the foul line, leaving Nation all by himself.
Those were the only points Nation scored in the contest.
“It happened so fast,” said Saddler. “By the time we reacted, the ball was up. We didn’t know they were going to throw it that fast. We knew there was a lob coming. They’ve got big guards.
“There was a little miscommunication. I don’t think we should have switched at the end of the game. We should have had Jamelle (Hagins) near the basket so he could block it. It was a crazy play.”
It was a costly loss for the Hens (9-5 CAA, 14-13 overall), who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Playing in front of a season-high home crowd of 3,559, second-place Delaware had a chance to pull a little closer to league-leader Northeastern (12-3 CAA), which was upset on Saturday night.
Instead, the Hens dropped to third place among CAA tournament-eligible teams. James Madison (10-5, 16-12) is now in second place and has won both meetings with Delaware this season.
After squandering 11-point leads in both the first and second half, the Hens know they let one get away.
“I think everybody in the gym knew it was going to be a lob toward the rim,” said sophomore guard Jarvis Threatt, who scored 12 points. “There was one second left. It’s stuff we can fix, that’s the good part – communication problems. But it is what it is. It’s a tough one.
“We’ve got to live with it and move on. We’ll learn from it.”
Delaware overcame a four-point deficit in the final three minutes. The Hens took the lead when Hagins grabbed a defensive rebound, fired a long pass ahead to Saddler (26 points) and the sophomore guard drove in to put Delaware up 71-70 with 23.6 seconds on the clock.
But the Hens simply gave the Dukes too many chances after that.
Another rebound by Hagins (6 points, 11 rebounds) after a missed JMU shot put the Delaware senior on the foul line with 8.7 seconds remaining. With a chance to give the Hens a three-point lead, though, he missed the front end of the one-and-one.
The Dukes got the ball to midcourt and called timeout with 4.6 seconds left. This time Hagins knocked a ball away from JMU’s Rayshawn Goins as he drove the lane.
But the ball went off Delaware and out of bounds, setting up JMU’s game-winning basket.
“We didn’t play particularly well but we put ourselves in position to win the game at the end,” said Blue Hen coach Monte’ Ross. “We just didn’t close the deal.”
The Dukes sank some big three-pointers to get back in the game. With the Hens leading 54-43 and 13:55 remaining, JMU answered with a 27-12 run to take its 70-66 advantage.
Five of the Dukes’ eight field goals in that stretch were threes. For the game, JMU hit a season-high 10 three-pointers, going 10-of-21 from beyond the arc.
“It was just one of those nights, because they’re not a 47-percent three-point shooting team,” said Ross. “They shoot 31 percent from three. One of the things we wanted to do was make them shoot three-point shots. And they made them tonight.”
Last Wednesday, the Hens pulled out an improbable win at Northeastern. Delaware tied the game in the closing seconds of regulation before winning in overtime on Threatt’s long-range three-pointer.
On Sunday night it was the Hens’ turn to leave the court shaking their heads.
“We’ll bounce back,” said Ross. “It’s a resilient group. You win a close one up at Northeastern and you lose a close one at home.
“When we won that one up at Northeastern, the season wasn’t over. The season’s not over now.”
Anderson added 16 points, sinking a pair of three-pointers and going 6-for-6 from the free throw line after being fouled on threes. … After being outrebounded by 14 at a loss to JMU earlier in the season, Delaware outrebounded the Dukes 42-35 on Sunday. … Saddler has scored in double figures in 33 straight games. … Goins and Moore led the Dukes with 19 points apiece. … The Hens have four regular-season games remaining, starting with a 7 p.m. home game against Drexel on Thursday night.
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.