No. 12 James Madison takes down No. 5 Wisconsin, sends message it may not be done yet

Trendy first-round upset picks don’t always wilt when they step onto the NCAA tournament stage.

Sometimes they deliver performances that suggest they’re capable of toppling more than one highly seeded power-conference team.

That’s exactly what James Madison did Friday night in Brooklyn with its 72-61 first-round victory over fifth-seeded Wisconsin. The 12th-seeded Dukes stormed to a double-digit lead in the first half’s opening eight minutes and withstood every counterpunch, gaining confidence with every dagger 3-pointer and every key defensive stop.

The closest Wisconsin came to putting real second-half game pressure on James Madison was a Max Klesmit wide-open driving layup attempt that hung tantalizingly on the rim but did not fall. Noah Freidel then banged a transition 3-pointer, a five-point swing in a matter of seconds that extended the Dukes’ lead to nine with less than eight minutes to play.

By outclassing a Wisconsin team that reached the Big Ten tournament title game less than a week ago, James Madison validated what already was a breakthrough season for its program under fourth-year coach Mark Byington.

James Madison guard Noah Freidel (1) reacts against Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Connect / Reuters

James Madison started the season by outlasting Michigan State in East Lansing for its first win over a Top 25 opponent in more than three decades. The Dukes briefly cracked the AP Top 25 themselves in December and only lost three games all season, piling up a gaudy 31-3 record entering NCAA tournament play.

“We’ve been waiting to get here to show how hard we can play,” junior Terrence Edwards told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson after Friday’s win. “We really some dawgs from 1 to 13, walk-ons, everybody. We just showed the world today.”

The world will really be watching on Sunday when James Madison takes aim at one of college basketball’s most tradition-rich programs. It will be the Dukes versus Duke in one of the Round of 32’s most intriguing matchups. Don’t expect James Madison to be intimidated. 

“All year we’ve been preaching that we can play against those types of players,” Edwards said. “Here we are now.”

While No. 12 seeds have toppled No. 5 seeds more than 50 times since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, James Madison is the first to do it this year. Gonzaga blew away popular upset pick McNeese on Thursday and San Diego State held off UAB on Friday afternoon.

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