No. 12 JMU handles No. 5 Wisconsin for first NCAA tournament win since 1983: How far can the Dukes go?

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — As James Madison players watched film all week to prepare for their first-round matchup against No. 5 Wisconsin, they scouted their foe and sized up its strengths and weaknesses. And nothing really intimidated them.

“It’s a really good matchup for us,” forward T.J. Bickerstaff said on the eve of the game. “Just following our game plan and listening to our coaches — we should be fine.”

What followed was not surprising to those in the film sessions or anyone who watched these 12th-seeded Dukes all season long. In front of a raucous JMU-heavy crowd, they jumped all over the Badgers from the opening tip, forcing turnovers, pushing the ball in transition and setting the pace and physicality against a Big Ten foe.

When the buzzer sounded, it was James Madison 72, Wisconsin 61.

As it turns out, the Dukes were more than fine. They secured the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1983, and they’ll face No. 4 Duke on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

JMU’s win over Wisconsin was the fifth game won by the lower seed in the South region, the most of any region in this year’s bracket. After a regular season marked by court storms and upsets, it seemed only fitting to see yet another double-digit seed advance to the second round. This one, though, was an upset on paper that didn’t feel like it in all actuality.

Guard Terrence Edwards Jr. paced the Dukes with 14 points, as four scorers finished in double figures. But it was the JMU defense that shined brightest, forcing 19 Wisconsin turnovers that led directly to 27 points for the Dukes.

Going into the game, JMU coach Mark Byington said the key was making sure the Dukes didn’t get pushed around. They had to fight. They had to take punches. They had to respond. If Wisconsin controlled the glass, JMU would be in trouble. But the Dukes were up to the task.

JMU entered Friday night’s game with a 31-3 record. The only other team in the country with that many wins? Connecticut, the No. 1 overall seed in this very NCAA tournament. The Dukes were consistently dominant all year, which led to a level of confidence that was unshakeable, even as a No. 12 seed.

JMU’s seeding was one of many that sparked conversation — and consternation — on Selection Sunday. The Dukes landed that No. 12 seed in large part because of their 22 Quad 4 games. The committee, as it often reminds fans, likes to reward teams that play challenging schedules. Though they got a game at Michigan State (that they ended up winning for their lone Quad 1 victory), scheduling tough can be quite a challenge for a good mid-major program. And JMU knew it had the pieces to potentially be really good.

Now, the Dukes have a chance to do something that’s never been done in program history: Earn a trip to the Sweet 16. Only 40 minutes and the bluest of blue bloods stand in their way.

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(Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)

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