Dukes gear up for tourney with rout

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

HARRISONBURG – James Madison’s women’s basketball team got exactly what it was looking for on Sunday afternoon against Alcorn State.

The Dukes made quick work of the Braves in an 82-47 rout, and the team now feels ready for their biggest challenge of the young season. JMU will play UCLA on Friday in the first round of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla. The tournament is a three-day event.

“We feel really confident,” JMU senior guard Kirby Burkholder said. “We’ve been playing really well, obviously 4-0. I still don’t think we’ve played the best we can. Certain people have good games here or there. We haven’t all had it on the same night. I’m still excited for everyone to put it all together on the same night.”

The Dukes (4-0) were never challenged by the Braves. The Dukes started out on a 13-2 run and didn’t look back. Precious Hall and Jazmon Gwathmey each had three points during the spurt.

Alcorn State (1-4) made only one basket in the first six minutes of the game.

A 3-pointer by Tierro Frost and two free throws Henrietta Walls cut the JMU lead to 15-7. The Dukes then reeled off 16 straight points, including nine from Hall.

Hall led the way for the Dukes with 17 points, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. The Dukes had five players in double figures. Crystal Ross and Destiny Jones each had 12 points off the bench. Burkholder and Toia Giggetts each had 11.

JMU had 41 points from its bench, something coach Kenny Brooks said has led to some good problems for him.

“That was a good issue going into the season. We knew we had a lot of good players, and it was going to be a matter of fighting for playing time. Tonight showed how good we can be,” Brooks said. “It’s out of my comfort zone, but honestly when I look down the bench now and I’m trying to sub, I have choices and I’m like ‘uh do I go with her?’ It’s really got me thinking. A lot of times with my shorter rotations I would throw somebody back in before I really went deep into my bench, and now I really can’t do that because we have so many different players who will step up.”

One of the players who stepped up for the Dukes recently is the 6-foot-3 center/forward Ross. Brooks said she didn’t get much playing time in the season opener against Virginia, and didn’t play at all against Liberty, and she had been struggling to finish her shots.
Brooks said after the Liberty game he had a long talk with her and she’s played better the last two games.

“Since then her work ethic, her focus has been a lot better,” Brooks said. “She played well against Richmond, had a good game tonight. We’re hoping she continues that progress because she gives us an added post player. These new [NCAA] rules are made for her, because you can’t be as physical as you used to be. So now she can establish position, now she can make those shots. She just needs to focus and make them, and tonight she did, and I thought she did a really good job.”

Burkholder was honored before the game and given a game ball by Brooks for scoring her 1,000th point earlier this season.

“It was a really nice honor,” Burkholder said. “It just makes me reflect on where I was from a freshman to here — that’s the biggest thing, I think.”

The Dukes will face several tough tests in the Gulf Coast Showcase. The Bruins are 2-2, coming off a win over No. 10 Oklahoma. Both of their losses came to ranked teams. Other strong teams in the tournament are Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State and N.C. State.

The Dukes see the tournament as way to get better as a team and to show what they can do against quality teams.

“Coach [Brooks] just talked to us and said we have to go down there and make a lot of noise,” Hall said. “Everybody knows who James Madison is now, but if we go down there and take care of business, everybody is really going to know who James Madison is.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd