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JMU junior guard Peyton McDaniel fires a shot in the Dukes' 80-79 win over Troy on Jan. 21, which moved them to first place in the Sun Belt Conference at 17-3 (7-1 Sun Belt). McDaniel paced the Dukes in scoring with 28 points.

In a hard-fought game, JMU women’s basketball beat Troy, 80-79. But regardless of the outcome, three individuals stood out — junior guard Peyton McDaniel and senior guard Kiki Jefferson for JMU and Troy junior guard Makayia Hallmon.

The first player to stand out was McDaniel. Just two days removed from scoring 26 points in a loss to Georgia Southern, McDaniel topped herself with 28 points, 17 of them in the first half. Jefferson ended the game as JMU’s second-highest scorer with 21 points. Hallmon led all scorers with 33 points.

“I think it’s just having confidence,” McDaniel said of her recent performances. “I think my teammates, my coaches, do a really good job of helping make that and always believing in me. No matter if I go down or come back, they always have belief in me, and it’s been great.”

She led the team in points as well as rebounds with nine, helping the Dukes outrebound the Trojans 41-38. Against Georgia Southern, JMU was outrebounded 53-37.

“We practiced that a lot in practice,” junior guard/forward Kobe King-Hawea said about rebounding. “Just hit bodies and make sure that we either hit them and let somebody else take it or locate the ball and grab it. We didn’t wanna get outworked on the rebound because we knew we had to beat them at their own game.”

The offensive outburst from McDaniel was only highlighted by a lack of one early, from JMU’s leading scorer this season: Jefferson. She scored three points in the first half, all in the last 1:04 of the second quarter. Jefferson then scored 18 points in the second half, the most of any Duke.

“I thought Kiki tonight was locked in hard the whole game,” O’Regan said, “and why I’m so proud of her is that she dealt with some adversity first, because it wasn’t easy … That’s the test of a true player and a strong mindset and she closed for us.”

Jefferson and McDaniel’s performances were enough for the Dukes to take as much as a 13-point lead with 7:53 remaining in the third quarter, but Troy stayed in it thanks to Hallmon. After scoring eight points in the first two quarters and just two in the third, Hallmon’s 23-point fourth-quarter outburst kept the Trojans alive down the stretch.

“You never wanna give somebody 33, but I thought the kid earned it,” O’Regan said, “and I told her after in the [handshake] line … ‘That was like a pro performance.’”

Hallmon’s effort was capped off with just seven seconds left when she scored six points in five seconds, bringing the deficit from seven to one with just 2.4 seconds left. After the game, O’Regan said he was just grateful the referees had to take a timeout to check if Hallmon was behind the 3-point line.

In the end, it was the effort of an unsung hero that secured the win. Graduate guard Caroline Germond played 36 minutes, gathering five defensive rebounds and dishing 10 assists, as well as praise from O’Regan. O’Regan called Jefferson, McDaniel and Germond “my headlines.”

In the final two seconds, Germond caught the inbound pass, dribbled it in her left hand and let the clock run out to secure JMU’s win and best record in the Sun Belt Conference.

“This is how you earn it,” O’Regan said. “This is how you get better than everybody, is by working your team off as a team, playing really together, battling on the glass.”

Up next, JMU (17-3, 7-1 Sun Belt) will travel to Coastal Carolina to face the Chanticleers on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. Troy (11-8, 6-2 Sun Belt) will head back home to face South Alabama on the same day and time.

Contact Jackson Hephner at hephnejt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more women’s basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on twitter @TheBreezeSports.