With 3:22 left in the first quarter, head coach Sean O’Regan ripped his jacked off out of frustration. The sight came earlier in the JMU women’s basketball game than fans were used to.
Redshirt junior forward Amber Porter’s layups weren’t falling as usual and the Elon offensive pursuit seemed like it was there to stay. These opening first quarter struggles lingered and cost the Dukes the game, as they lost their first CAA tournament since 2012, falling 78-60 to the Phoenix. Elon, which joined the league in 2014, won the CAA for the first time and will make its first NCAA appearance in school history.
“In the first quarter I thought we had good shots,” O’Regan said. “I was OK with the looks we were getting. Coming out of halftime, I thought we had a good bounce, but it kind of just got deflated.”
None of the players on JMU’s roster played a minute in last year’s CAA’s championship reign; inexperience that likely hurt. Freshman guard Kamiah Smalls, who averages 9.4 points per game on 51 percent shooting, was held to only four points. Porter, who had a convincing end to her regular season, shot a measly 2-14 from the field. At times it was missing open looks and at times it was Elon’s stellar defense swarming seemingly every JMU player.
“At the end of the day it’s just a game to me,” redshirt senior guard Precious Hall said. “I take away everything that I’ve been taught this year. It’s life, you take it and you move on.”
As a whole, the JMU offense shot an atrocious 23 percent from the floor while Elon proceeded to take 30 fewer shots than the Dukes, but shot 53 percent.
The lone outlier on the stat sheet was Hall. One day after putting up 37 points, she scored 32 on 10-33 shooting to cap off a senior year for the books. She made a fourth quarter push that dropped a 22-point Elon lead to 10 points with just under three minutes left, making the 3,011 fans in the Convocation Center roar louder than ever. But Hall’s 12-point fourth quarter just wasn’t enough firepower to overcome the hole that the Dukes’ offense had dug.
“With time still on the clock, we knew the game wasn’t over,” Elon senior guard Essence Baucom said. “We just had to rally the troops and stay focused on the task until the clock hit 0:00.”
With 1:34 left to play, Hall went to the sidelines to a warm ovation and an even warmer hug from O’Regan.
On the other hand, Elon proceeded to do what its done the entire tournament — lead a balanced attack and remained poised under pressure. Senior guard Lauren Brown, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led Elon with 17 points and Baucom backed her up with another 16 points.
Elon junior guard Shay Burnett was all over the floor and filled the stat sheet, ending the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. The consistent effort led to Baucom falling to the ground as time expired, and soon being ambushed by her teammates as confetti rained on the Convo floor.
“I’m hardly ever at a loss for words, but I’m still pinching myself because it still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Elon head coach Charlotte Smith said. “I’m so proud of this team and the effort we put forth in all three games of this tournament.”
As Smith walked off JMU’s court with the CAA championship net around her neck, sporting her new championship hat and shirt, having just knocked off the team that swept them in the regular season, she finally admitted she was satisfied.
“We’re champions now, but trust me, I can definitely go back in that film and find a ton of mistakes,” Smith said. “To be a champion you always have to want more, but I’m extremely proud of them, so I’ll give them a break tonight.”
The Phoenix will patiently wait Monday for their name to be placed in the NCAA tournament field.
Meanwhile, JMU will await its postseason destination on Monday with a potential bid to the NCAA tournament or the WNIT on the line.
Contact Harry Holtzclaw at email@example.com.