DAYTON, Ohio — With about 15 minutes remaining in Wednesday’s First Four battle between James Madison and LIU-Brooklyn, the team with all the momentum was the Blackbirds.
They had stormed back from a 12-point first-half deficit to take the lead, and Madison was struggling. Until a freshman stepped up and changed the entire complexion of the game.
Over the next three minutes, guard Andre Nation would score four points, grab three rebounds, block one shot and dish out an assist — suddenly, it was a seven-point game and LIU-Brooklyn was essentially out of the game.
James Madison would pull away down the stretch for a 68-55 victory, advancing to the round of 64 against Indiana. Nation finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and five blocked shots.
Not bad for a guy who scored a combined 19 points in his final four regular-season games and was playing in his first tournament game.
“He’s further along with his basketball IQ than I recognized,” coach Matt Brady said. “He’s an athlete, and he’s got the basketball ability that I recognized when we recruited him. But his basketball intellect and his IQ is much higher than I could have really speculated.”
Nation, a 6-foot-5 frosh from Florida, had an up-and-down debut season. There were stretches in which he looked like a potential all-conference player. Other times, he seemed out of position and inconsistent.
In the conference tournament, though, Nation proved himself as a player to watch in the CAA next year.
“He’s becoming a really good teammate, and I think his shot selection is improved,” Brady said. “I think he can do more on offense, but he’s willing to wait his turn and just kind of be a role player. He’s unique for our team and even for our league.”
That last part is what makes Nation such an intriguing prospect. The CAA is not used to having 6-foot-5 point guards running the show, players with his size who can handle the ball, run the break and find teammates. Coaches around the conference already think he’s one of the best defenders in the league, and he’s only getting better.
With his size and wingspan, Nation is becoming a matchup problem at both ends of the floor. LIU-Brooklyn’s C.J. Garner experienced that first-hand, when he hit a couple of shots to start the second half before Brady put Nation on him.
“I think [size and length] played a big factor,” Nation said. “We knew their guards were smaller, so we wanted to give them space and beat them with our length.”
While Nation’s ability to do a little bit of everything won’t be as much of a factor against Indiana, his late-season performance has certainly made him a player to watch for James Madison going forward.