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

When his team drew fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, James Madison coach Mark Byington briefly tried to motivate his team the way other underdog coaches in his position have.

"They weren't paying attention to me," Byington said. "So it came to a point where I just had to take them for who they are."

James Madison didn't consider itself underdogs against Wisconsin on Friday night, nor did the Dukes play like it during their convincing 72-61 victory. 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.

"I know we were looked at as underdogs, but we never felt that way," Byington said. "We felt that we had a chance to compete. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and that's something that these guys like. I mean, they are not scared of challenges. They embrace them."

James Madison is proof that 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.

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)

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."

James Madison's defensive pressure in the first half was the biggest difference in the Wisconsin victory. The Dukes forced 13 first-half turnovers from the Badgers and held them to a season-low 20 first-half points.

Every coach who Greg Gard talked to before Friday's game told the Wisconsin coach that James Madison was going to come right at the Badgers. Gard lamented that his team didn't adjust quickly enough.

"Congrats to James Madison," Gard said. "Even more impressive in person than they were on film, and I was really impressed with them on film. I thought their pressure bothered us, specifically in the first half, obviously with 13 turnovers, they really got after us. We didn't handle it exceptionally well."