JMU women's basketball (copy)

JMU women's basketball claimed the No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament and the regular season title with a victory over Drexel.

JMU women’s basketball battled the Drexel Dragons in a tough CAA contest Thursday. The Dukes prevailed 58-47, clinching the CAA regular season title. Redshirt junior guard Jackie Benitez led JMU with 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

“I give [Benitez] a lot of credit,”head coach Sean O’Regan said. “She’s that weapon for me, if you’re going to try to zone us, I got her. If you let her run around and shoot 12 threes, which she’s going to do, I don’t know if that strategy is going to work.”

JMU won the game with rebounding and gritty defensive play. The Dukes out rebounded Drexel, 37-27 and had seven steals and blocks. O’Regan used this game as a way to evaluate his team heading into the CAA Tournament.

“It prepares me more for next week,” O’Regan said. “I think the more you can see, [Drexel head coach Denise Dillon] tried this, she did this, that’s just going to help me prepare. The cumulation of it all is going help prepare.”

The Dragons focused their attention on junior guard Kamiah Smalls throughout the game. With eyes on the Philadelphia native, other role players were able to step up and make plays.

Senior guard Logan Reynolds was all over the court, ending the night with eight points, eight assists and a steal. Junior forward Devon Merritt also helped Reynolds set the tempo of the game for the Dukes. Merritt ended with 10 points and six rebounds.

“I think it set the tone right from the start,” Reynolds said. “It gives everybody else an opportunity to score and if they’re worried about us, they’re going to leave [Smalls] wide open as well, so it goes both ways and allows other people to flourish but at the same time do what we do.”

The Dukes had a sluggish second quarter only scoring six points in the period. O’Regan made several adjustments during halftime, which included attacking the corners of Drexel’s zone.

“We were trying to spread them out as much as possible,” O’Regan said. “I have a lot of confidence in how we shoot the ball and if you got Smalls in one corner and Benitez in the other, you have to stretch your zone. Now there’s more gaps for Logan or whoever … I think we’re at our best when we are not necessarily in a set and we’re just playing basketball.”

Smalls benefited from the spacing as she scored six of her eight points in the second half. Smalls also was able to attack the gaps in the zone at times while it was spaced out.

“It was an adjustment as a team,” Smalls said. “It was what was open and they kept leaving it open so, we kept going for it. It came from the basketball IQ from our team.”

Drexel junior forward Bailey Greenberg — who’s the CAA’s leading scorer — led the Dragons with 18 points and nine rebounds. Drexel did shoot better from behind-the-arc in this game at 35 percent.

JMU, now 24-4 (16-1), will have its final game in the Convocation Center for the 2018-19 season against Delaware on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

Contact Brandon Ellis ellis3bm@dukes.jmu.edu For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

Sports has been a passion for me all my life. I've always wanted to become a sports journalist ever since I heard the legendary Stuart Scott exclaim his great catchphrases like “Booyah!” or “Cooler than the other side of the pillow.”