James Madison claims Sun Belt title to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Xavier Brown scored a career-high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds and No. 2 seed James Madison eased by No. 4 seed Arkansas State 91-71 on Monday night to claim the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013.

James Madison (31-3), which outlasted Texas State in the semifinals to notch its first 30-win season in program history, extended its winning streak to 13 games. The Dukes began the season on a 14-game winning streak, starting with an overtime victory over then-No. 4 Michigan State.

Arkansas State (18-16), in its first Sun Belt championship game appearance since 2007, was seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999.

Brown, averaging 6.1 points per game, scored 19 points in the opening 14 minutes, including 13 straight James Madison points, to help build a 30-23 lead. He made his first seven shots before missing a 3-pointer with 5:22 left. Brown finished the half with 21, topping his previous best scoring total of 17 against Hampton on Dec. 16.

Noah Freidel made two 3-pointers in the opening three minutes of the second half, including a four-point play, and Terrence Edwards added another 3, following an offensive rebound, to make it 54-39 with 16:09 left.

Edwards, the Sun Belt player of the year, finished with 19 points for JMU. Jaylen Carey scored 13 and Freidel had 12. The Dukes finished 11 of 19 from distance.

Freddy Hicks, who made a game-winner in the semifinals against top-seeded Appalachian State, scored 24 points for Arkansas State. Izaiyah Nelson had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Caleb Fields and Taryn Todd each had 10 points and five assists.

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