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After falling behind by as many as 12 points early, E.J. Reed’s two foul shots with 15:02 left gave the Blackbirds their first lead of the game. But after falling behind, JMU found another gear.

Devon Moore, who had six assists, scored in transition right through the heart of the lane, Nation hit a follow and Davis took a long pass and popped in the shot off glass for a 45-40 advantage.

Nation then blocked a shot — one of 10 by the Dukes — at the other end and tossed a halfcourt lead pass to Cooke, who dunked while being fouled. His three-point play made it a 9-0 run for a 48-40 lead with under 12 minutes left.

The Blackbirds never got closer than five points again.

Olasewere gave credit to JMU’s defense.

“(Nation) had five blocks as a guard,” he said softly. “Around the rim, he made me struggle.”

Goins came in early in the second half but appeared out of synch for several minutes. After missing his first three shots badly, he finally got on the board with a muscular move inside on a putback with 7:36 left to push the lead to 56-51. The next trip down the floor, he scored again, this time off a nifty assist pass inside from Ron Curry.

It was not a huge falloff going to Davis in the starting lineup in place of Goins, since Davis was MVP of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament just over a week ago, and came in averaging 20.5 in his last 10 games and 20.7 in the CAA tourney.

“My teammates are finding me and Coach is drawing up good plays for me,” Davis said. “We’re just playing confident and playing within our system.”

The Blackbirds came in trying to duplicate the success of fellow Northeastern Conference member Robert Morris, which stunned defending national champion Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.

They had also weathered their share of adversity. They opened 0-4 and then lost Julian Boyd, their conference’s top player the year before, with a season-ending knee injury after eight games.

After scoring at least 90 points in their last four games, they were held to 36 percent shooting for the game (23 percent in the second half) and had difficulty stringing together baskets against JMU’s sticky defense.

“Plain and simple, they really bothered our shots,” first-year coach Jack Perri said. “That was something we weren’t necessarily thinking was going to happen.”

Now, the Dukes have taken a step toward reminding people how dangerous they used to be.

Once upon a time, Lou Campanelli coached the Dukes to mammoth NCAA upsets over Georgetown in 1981, Ohio State in 1982 and West Virginia in 1983. The 1982 team lost to eventual national champion North Carolina — led by Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins — 52-50 in the final minute.

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