Folks knew coming into the 2020-21 season just how good Matt Lewis can be. The James Madison guard earned preseason Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, despite the Dukes being picked to finish ninth in the league.
But after averaging 19 points and 3.4 assists per game in 2019-20, both career highs, Lewis has elevated his production further in his senior campaign. He’s scoring 22.5 points per game, including a 30-point effort in the Dukes’ CAA-opening win over Towson on Jan. 16 that Tigers coach Pat Skerry described as “sensational.”
“He looked like an NBA player today,” Skerry said. “He very well might be, too. There have been a lot of them out of this league, I see no reason why he couldn’t be one.”
CAA alumni have indeed transitioned well to the pros in recent years, and Lewis plays a style that would make for a logical fit at the next level. In the 81-72 defeat of Towson, for example, he knocked down a remarkable nine 3-pointers.
“The way he shot the ball — nine threes in a college basketball game — he just stuck shot after shot,” Skerry said. “As a coach, you’re going to get on your guys about running them off the line and contesting better, but the guy still has to make the shot.
“You make shots like that, you make a lot of money,” he added.
While one should exercise restraint extrapolating too much from one game, Lewis made 80 3-pointers a season ago. Recognizing the room to improve his jump shot even after sinking so many in 2019-20, Lewis said he dedicated himself to it in the offseason.
It’s certainly a smart strategy for a pro-aspirant guard. About a month into the current NBA season, 28 of the league’s 30 teams are averaging more than 30 3-point attempts a game. In 2013-14, the Houston Rockets’ 26.6 per game led the NBA.
“Especially at the NBA level, you’ve got to be able to shoot the rock, shoot the three,” Lewis said. “I practice that every day, and it translated to the game.”
And in that assessment is a byproduct of Lewis’ rising individual stock. As his production increases, so too does James Madison’s prospects of winning.
Using the 3-pointer as an example, Lewis’ 71 attempts, 30 makes and 42.3 percent success are all team highs.
As a squad, James Madison ranks 30th among all Div. I teams in the percent of its field-goal attempts coming from beyond the arc (45.1) and just outside the top 100 for its distribution of points coming via the three (33) per KenPom.com.
Both team statistics improved from a season ago, commensurate with Lewis’ average improving by five percent.
“As I watch more film, as I develop as a player, my shot’s always going to get better,” Lewis said.
One phase of the game doesn’t define Lewis’ production, nor his growth as a player. After finishing second to Deshon Parker in assists a season ago, perhaps the most telling statistic to describe Lewis is that he now leads the Dukes in assists at 4.3 per game.
His 30 points and nine 3-pointers stole the show against Towson, but Lewis still distributed a season-best eight assists. He’s now No. 81 among all Div. I players for assist rate per KenPom, putting him in the same territory as Baylor’s Davion Mitchell and Michigan State’s Rocket Watts.
“We trust him to be able to find the open guy,” Dukes coach Mark Byington said of Lewis’ court vision. “Matt’s really seeing the game well . . . As teams start trying to take care of Matt, we’re going to keep leaving it in Matt’s hands and letting him make decisions for us.”
Add his tied-for-team-high 5.1 rebounds per game, with double-doubles for points and boards against Radford and VCU, and Lewis boasts one of the most well-rounded resumes of any college basketball player in 2021.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.