Hall, Dukes rally past Dragons in CAA tourney semis

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University’s defense came to life just in time Friday night.

JMU erased a double-digit deficit and rallied for a 76-68 victory over Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball tournament semifinals. The Dukes play top-seeded Elon in tonight’s final at 7 p.m.

JMU redshirt senior Precious Hall was just three points of a tournament record as she poured in 37 points in the victory.

“It was not the start we wanted. I didn’t think we carried the defensive intensity over from (Thursday),” JMU head coach Sean O’Regan said. “What we did in the second half was exactly who we are. That’s the part I really enjoyed watching was playing with intensity and our tempo and watching one of the best players in the country go to work.”

Things began to change for JMU late in the first half.

The Dragons (21-10) built a 34-22 lead with 2:31, before the Dukes finally showed some spark on defense.

The Dukes (24-7) went on a 6-0 run, aided by several steals. Hall scored four of the six points to cut the lead to 34-28 with 1:22 left in the second quarter.

Drexel’s Sara Woods knocked down a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of the first half for a 36-28 lead.

“(O’Regan) told us at halftime we have to have a little more ball pressure,” Hall said. “Towards the end of the second quarter when we started applying a little bit of ball pressure, kind of sped them up a little bit. They’re a great team when they’re open and can see the whole court. So we just had to limit their view on the court, and make sure we were applying ball pressure and speed them up.”

The Dukes did that well throughout the second half.

The two teams traded baskets to start the second half. A 3-pointer by Kelsi Lidge gave the Dragons a 42-33 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.

At that point JMU’s defense took over. The Dukes held the Dragons scoreless for 3:57 of play.

JMU used a 13-5 run to take a 46-45 lead with 2:54 left in the third quarter.

The Dukes had contributions from several players during the run. Hall drained a 3-pointer, followed by a driving layup from Kamiah Smalls.

Lexie Barrier capped the run off with a 3-pointer. The run started with back-to-back baskets by Aneah Young.

“I think our whole team put in really important plays in this game,” O’Regan said. “I thought Aneah’s energy to start the game was huge for us. I told Kamiah, I haven’t seen that Kamiah in a little while, taking somebody off the dribble and getting buckets.”

The two teams went back and forth throughout the rest of the third quarter. Smalls hit a driving layup in the final seconds for a 50-47 edge after three quarters.

Hall hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and the two teams traded baskets for the next five minutes.

The Dukes were able to make free throws down the stretch and hold on for the win.

Hall went 13-for-26 from the field, including five 3-pointers. She set a JMU record for points in a tournament game.

“I think today my shots were just falling,” Hall said. “My teammates did a good job of looking for me. It was a good day for me today.”

Smalls had 12 points for the Dukes. Drexel was led by Sarah Curran with 22 points.

Elon (26-6) defeated William & Mary, 88-60, in the first semifinal. The Phoenix had four players score in double figures.

Lauren Brown had 25 points, Shay Burnett had 20, Malaya Johnson had 15 and Jenifer Rhodes had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Phoenix. Elon shot 56.5 percent (35-for-62) from the field in the victory.

William & Mary (20-10) was led by Marlena Tremba with 14 points, and Alexandra Masaquel with 11 points.

The Dukes will be going for their fourth straight CAA tournament title and with it a fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth. The Dukes beat Elon twice this season.

O’Regan said he hopes his players understand what a great opportunity it was to play in Friday’s game.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in a championship game on your home floor in front of what I would expect to be four, five-thousand people,” O’Regan said. “The crowd today was unbelievable. That’s what I’m looking forward to is going out there and seizing the opportunity of playing a championship game on your home floor. …Elon’s going to be tough. They’re playing extremely well, but it’s 40 minutes on your home floor for a CAA championship.”

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