Defense sparks Dukes past Seahawks

James Madison University's Precious Hall drives to the basket as University of North Carolina Wilmington's Jenny DeGraaf defends during first half basketball action at the Colonial Athletic Association's quarter finals held Thursday evening at James Madison University. Rich Cooley/Daily

HARRISONBURG –James Madison University’s women’s basketball team made history on Thursday night.

The Dukes set two Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball tournament defensive records in a 52-27 victory over UNC-Wilmington in the quarterfinals at JMU’s Convocation Center.

The Dukes held the Seahawks to a tournament record 27 points and also to a tourney record 20.9 shooting percentage (9-for-43).

“I think that’s what we’ve been talking about all the time is letting our defense control everything else,” JMU head coach Sean O’Regan said. “And we did a real good of that tonight. We had real good energy. We were disciplined. That dictated everything else. As a whole I think we can win a championship defending like that.”

The second-seeded Dukes play third-seeded Drexel in today’s tourney semifinals at 7 p.m.

JMU's Kamiah Smalls goes up for a reverse layup as UNCW's Diamond Willis defends during first half CAA quarterfinals action Thursday evening at JMU. Rich Cooley/Daily

Both teams started out slowly, combining for just six points in the first four minutes of the game.

The Dukes (23-7) used a 10-1 run to build a 12-3 edge late in the first quarter. Precious Hall ignited the run with six points during the stretch.

“Pretty much the whole game our mindset was just keep our defense the same intensity it was,” JMU’s Lexie Barrier said. “The offense would come. Just keep shooting and shots are going to fall.”

The Seahawks (11-20) closed the lead to 12-7 after the first quarter on back-to-back baskets by Jasmine Steele and Amber Reeves.

JMU came out strong to start the second quarter. An 8-2 run gave the Dukes a 20-9 edge with 7:50 left in the first half. Hailee Baron had four points to spark the Dukes during the run.

James Madison's Logan Reynolds pushes the ball down the floor as UNCW'S Jasmine Steel defends during first half action of the CAA quarterfinals held Thursday evening at JMU. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Dukes eventually stretched the lead to 13 points, 25-12, with 2:18 left, and led 27-16 at the half.

The Dukes shot only 30 percent (9-for-30) from the field in the first half, but improved to 35.7 percent (10-for-28) in the second half.

“I thought early we just missed a couple shots that we normally make, just because of it being a tournament — all the fanfare around here,” O’Regan said.

JMU struggled at the end of the regular season from behind the 3-point line. The struggles continued in the first half Thursday. However, two 3-pointers in the third quarter helped key a 13-7 run, which allowed the Dukes to pull away for good.

Barrier drilled a 3-pointer with 4:16 left in the third quarter to push the lead to 34-20. Just minutes later, Logan Reynolds added a 3-pointer of her own as the Dukes built a 42-24 lead after three quarters.

“I think once we hit that, it was just keep the momentum going,” Barrier said of the 3-pointers. “We just had to get in the flow of the game — (the shots) eventually fell.”

UNC-Wilmington head coach Adell Harris said that she thought JMU played well defensively, but also thought her team let their shooting woes affect them mentally.

“We got a lot of wide open shots,” Harris said. “We got timely free throw opportunities where the game’s a 6-point lead. You can get it to four, get it to two, and you just come up short. And I think psychologically it’s just deflating.”

Hall and Amber Porter led the Dukes with 10 points each. Barrier added eight points for the Dukes.

The Seahawks were led by Jenny DeGraaf with eight points.

Hall said that the even though the offense wasn’t at its best, the most important thing was just getting a win in their first tourney game.

“I think that’s the whole thing with the first game is just to get your jitters out,” Hall said. “Everyone has that one win under their belt now. And it’s always good to go out there and send a message. We have teams in the crowd watching us, and we want them to see who James Madison is.”

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