Junior forward Ed Polite, Jr. drove the lane and laid in the game-winning basket with five seconds remaining in regulation to give the Radford men’s basketball team a 69-68 victory over James Madison at the Dedmon Center Saturday afternoon.
Trailing by one, sophomore guard Donald Hicks capped a big day by pulling down an offensive board to give the Highlanders new life with 25 seconds left. Head Coach Mike Jones called a timeout and drew up a play, but strong defense by the Dukes threw the Highlanders’ offensive rhythm off. Sophomore forward Devonnte Holland was double-teamed at the baseline and without panicking, pivoted and found Polite for the decisive basket.
Polite took over late and backed up his preseason accolades with a monster performance. The Lanham, Md. native finished with a team-high 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals across 33 minutes.
With the victory, Radford improves to 3-2 on the season while the Dukes fall to 2-5.
The Highlanders got off to a quick start, knocking down four of their first six shots from the field to grab an early lead, but the momentum soon shifted to the visiting bench. The Dukes would go on a 15-0 run from 15:56 to 8:39 before a three by Hicks ended a stretch of cold shooting for Radford.
Trailing 28-13 at the 6:42 mark, the floodgates would finally open for Radford. A three-pointer by redshirt freshman Carlik Jones would ignite a thrilling 22-6 run for the Highlanders that saw the score go from 28-13 to 38-34 as the teams entered halftime.
A much more back-and-forth game emerged in the second half as both teams battled to grab the lead. The Highlanders came out of the break cold, making only three of their first 18 shots, and shot 32-percent for the entire second half, but timely plays and a team effort on defense kept it close to the finish.
Hicks scored a season-high 16 points and added six rebounds while Jones scored 13 on 5-of-8 shooting to join his teammates in double-figures.
Senior guard Joey McLean paced the James Madison offense with 19 points while freshman guard Darius Banks followed with 15 of his own. Their combined 14-21 clip from the field was a big factor in the Dukes’ shooting 50-percent overall including 53-percent from beyond the arc.
Head Coach Mike Jones went with the same starting five for two consecutive games for the first time this season.
Polite, Jr. has recorded at least one block in all five games and at least one steal in four of those five games this season. With season highs in both blocks and steals, the Highlanders earned a 15-5 advantage in fast break points.
Eight of the 11 Highlanders who saw game action got on the score sheet. Radford’s domination in bench scoring continues as they outscored the Dukes, 29-12 on Saturday. That brings the combined season total to 187-75.
Ball movement was a positive for the Highlanders, who tallied 15 assists on 24 made baskets. Seven different players had at least one assist.
The Highlanders also outrebounded JMU, 36-29, including a 16-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. Radford is now 2-0 this season following a loss
While JMU’s biggest lead was 15, Radford’s biggest lead of the day was only five points at the 3:14 mark of the second half.
“After the first two looks on that last play, it became drive and kick basketball as we tried to beat the defender off the dribble. The best part about that last possession was the guys were very unselfish. We made four passes during the possession and the extra pass gave us a wide-open layup. We have been really emphasizing that the more we share the ball, the more points we will score,” said Radford head coach Mike Jones.
Looking to build on Saturday’s victory, the Radford men’s basketball team will head to Nashville, Tenn. to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. The game is scheduled for Tuesday, November 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Vanderbilt heads into the game with a 2-4 record after falling to Seton Hall, 72-59, on Friday.