Elon knocks off JMU for CAA tourney title

HARRISONBURG — The third time was the charm for Elon University’s women’s basketball team.

The Phoenix avenged two regular season loses to James Madison University with the most important win of all. Top-seeded Elon led most of the way in a 78-60 victory over the Dukes in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final on Saturday at JMU’s Convocation Center. The win secures Elon’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

“I’m hardly ever at a loss for words, but I’m still pinching myself because it has not quite sunk in,” Elon head coach Charlotte Smith less than an hour after the win. “I’m so extremely proud of this team. The efforts that we gave every single game this tournament.”

The Dukes took an early 4-2 lead on back-to-back baskets by Precious Hall. Elon then used an 8-2 run to build a 10-6 edge and take the lead for good.

The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter with the Phoenix holding a 16-10 advantage.

“The first quarter, for me, I thought we had really good shots and good tempo with our shots,” JMU head coach Sean O’Regan said. “I thought the rest of the game we rushed a lot.”

Back-to-back driving layups by Aneah Young and Logan Reynolds helped JMU cut the deficit to one early in the second quarter with a 5-0 run.

The Phoenix (27-6) responded with eight straight points for a 24-15 edge, with four different players scoring during the spurt.

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the half with Elon leading, 36-25, at the break.

JMU (24-8) scored the first 5 points of the second half, on a driving layup by Tasia Butler and a 3-pointer from Hall to cut the lead to 36-30 with 7:53 left in the third quarter.

Elon went on a 6-0 run, and JMU then went on a 6-0 run of its own.

The Phoenix answered with a decisive 28-2 run, which put the game out of reach. O’Regan said he felt like things just snowballed, and got away from them.

“You get down. It’s a level of urgency with our team because you want it so bad that you just want to make a 5-pointer and just get back,” O’Regan said. “And I thought we ended up pressing a little bit with our offense as the score got away from us.”

The Dukes missed 10 straight shots during the run, which gave Elon a 60-38 lead with 6:47 left in the game.

JMU made one last push, cutting the lead to 10 points with 2:41 left but that’s as close as the Dukes would get.

JMU took 30 more shots than Elon, and had 25 offensive rebounds. The Dukes shot 22.8 percent (18-for-79) from the field.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” O’Regan said. “It wasn’t our day. I thought we showed some fight at the end, but for whatever reason we couldn’t put enough balls in the basket. …I’m crushed. I’m crushed with the result.”

Hall led the Dukes with 32 points. JMU was trying to win it’s fourth straight CAA tournament title. The Dukes will have to wait until today to see if they are selected for the NCAA Tournament. If they are not, they will have an automatic berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

The Phoenix struggled against the Dukes earlier this season, and said beating the Dukes in the final made winning the championship sweeter.

“We definitely wanted JMU,” Elon’s Lauren Brown said. James Madison is a phenomenal team. They have a history of winning and we know that Precious Hall, she focuses in. We knew that it would be a very big game for us. To be able to show up and show out at their home is great it really is.”

Brown led the Phoenix with 17 points. Essence Baucom had 16 points and Malaya Johnson and Shay Burnett had 14 each for Elon.

Brown was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Joining her on the All-CAA tournament team were her teammates Baucom and Burnett, JMU’s Hall, Drexel’s Sarah Curran and William & Mary’s Marlena Tremba.

Smith is in her sixth year as head coach at Elon. She played for the University of North Carolina in the 1990’s and hit the game winning shot to give the Tar Heels the National Championship. She said it was great to see her players win a championship of their own.

“I wanted them to experience this for a very long time,” Smith said. “For six years I’ve been working hard to try to position the team to be able to feel what I felt as a player, because it’s a great feeling. It’s something no one can ever take away from you. You will always be 2017 champions.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com