JMU Women’s Basketball Notebook: Youthful Dukes fighting through early growing pains

JMU's Kamiah Smalls changes direction as she drives past UNCW's Jasmine Steele during last year's CAA tournament quarterfinals held at JMU. This season, Smalls leads the Dukes in scoring and rebounding. Rich Cooley/Daily file

HARRISONBURG — James Madison University women’s basketball coach Sean O’Regan is seeing his team go through the growing pains that he was expecting them to go through.

After losing last year’s top scorer Precious Hall to graduation, O’Regan said he knew it was going to take some time for his team to find its way, especially at the end of the game. Last year the team was able to rely on Hall to come up with the big plays down the stretch.

“I think there’s a little bit of a Precious (Hall) factor with (making plays) down the stretch and being able to make those plays,” O’Regan said. “And I think we’re getting through that.”

JMU is averaging 63.7 points per game, and allowing 66.5 points per contest.

The Dukes are 2-4, but have played a tough schedule. Two of JMU’s four losses have come to ranked teams.

O’Regan said he thinks it’s good that his team is playing a tough schedule early in the year.

“We could be playing a softer schedule and winning, but not necessarily getting the growth we need to,” O’Regan said. “Hopefully by conference time we get this thing rolling.”

NO SMALL FEAT: JMU sophomore guard Kamiah Smalls not only leads the team in scoring, but also rebounding while also handling the majority of the point guard duties.

Smalls has helped fill in at point guard, while starter Logan Reynolds has been out due to injury. Smalls is averaging a team-best 15.7 points per and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“It’s unique,” O’Regan said. “I think it’s very difficult for 35 minutes. ‘I’m asking her to score. I’m asking her to bring the ball up all that stuff. And she’s doing a really good job of it.”

O’Regan said that the 5-foot-10 Smalls has to have the strong mindset to go get the rebounds.

O’Regan said that Smalls only had had three rebounds in an 89-60 loss to the University of Tennessee on Nov. 15 and since then she has been a big factor on the boards.

“The Tennessee game was very eye-opening to her,” O’Regan said. “It was a moment where I think she flipped her switch on.”

Last weekend in a tournament at the University of Vermont, Smalls had her first double-double of the season. Smalls had 19 points and 10 rebounds, along with six steals and five assists in a 68-56 victory over Vermont on Nov. 25. She also had 17 points and eight rebounds in a 60-57 loss to Villanova University on Nov. 24.

O’Regan said Smalls’ athletic ability and speed are part of what her a special player. He said there’s still room for improvement.

“I think she’s learning to change her speeds, which is a huge difference maker for her,” O’Regan said. “You can’t just, I call it nitro, you can’t just be in nitro and go 100 miles an hour. You got to change your speeds. It’s going to make you faster, everything, even in offensive rebounding.”

TOUGH SCHEDULE CONTINUES: JMU will face another Top 25 team this weekend as the Dukes host Florida State University, which is ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll, on Sunday at the JMU Convocation Center.

The Seminoles are averaging 93 points per game, and are 6-0 on the season. They have five players averaging in double figures, led by Shakayla Thomas (21 points per game).

“I think, anybody coming into the Convo, I think we got a really good shot at ’em, because it’s our home floor,” O’Regan said. “But they’re good. Their numbers are really good.”

Florida State is shooting 49.3 percent from the floor (209-for-424) and 34.6 percent from 3-point range (45-for-130).

Besides Smalls the Dukes are led by Kelly Koshuta (14.2 points per game) and Lexie Barrier (10.7 points per contest).

O’Regan said it should help the Dukes that they have all week to prepare for the Seminoles.

“We got a full week. We’ll get after it and we’ll make sure we’re shoring up some of the plays,” O’Regan said. “It’s going from a Rutgers or a Tennessee to a Villanova is a completely different game. (Florida State) is more towards the Tennessee aspect of a game. So I’ll watch that game a little bit. We’ll revisit that and see some of the mistakes we were making.

“Certainly I expect we’re going to have to have our ‘A’ game for that one for sure.”

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