Sean O'Regan (copy)

The Dukes strong season continued with a win over Virginia Tech on Thursday.

JMU women’s basketball advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament with a 70-66 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Thursday.

The game came down to a block by senior guard Aneah Young against Tech’s senior guard Taylor Emery with four seconds left in the game. Young had eight points, six rebounds, two steals and the key block late in the game.

“I remember [assistant] coach [Bridgette Mitchell] telling me that they were going to set that ball screen, and they were going to come to me,” Young said. “I said, ‘I just had to lock up’ and I knew this was the deciding factor. ... I had to stay solid and play good defense.”

The atmosphere in the Convocation Center was one of the best the Dukes saw this season. Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks — the winningest coach in JMU women’s basketball history— felt the atmosphere.

“I always said the hardest thing I had to do when I left was … when I had to come back,” Brooks said. “Coaching against kids I brought here, that I always root for and trying to coach against them is one of the hardest things I had to do … What made it okay was the reception, never thought in a million years it would be like that.”

Young and senior guard Logan Reynolds were two important players for the Dukes when it came to defense and emotion. Including the game saving block, Young and Reynolds combined for 17 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block. The Dukes were able to force 17 Hokie turnovers, which included 11 steals. JMU head coach Sean O’Regan understood the impact the defensive end of the floor would have in this ball game.

“That crowd definitely did something to us, which is just awesome,” O’Regan said. “At this time of year, we’re not going to take the last two days and practice something different. This is who we are and this is what we’re going to be. So yeah, they got shooters, but we have to be there in the gaps, dig it out of the post. I just thought we were sharp and aggressive.”

JMU was led by junior guards Kamiah Smalls and Jackie Benitez, who scored 31 of JMU’s 70 points — Smalls had 16, and Benitez had 15 points. The impact of freshman guard Maddie Green and sophomore forward Breyenne Bellerand may not be found in the box score, but both of them made crucial plays coming off the bench.

“The rotation is different without [junior guard] Lexie [Barrier], but it’s becoming a rotation,” O’Regan said. “That’s what I like. Maddie knows when she’s getting in there, what’s she’s going to do. [Bellerand] has gotten accustomed to that … I thought everybody did their thing tonight, including [Bellerand] … I thought when she got in there,she drove it to the rim — just missed the layup. It was like downhill drive. I thought Maddie’s boost was crucial.”

Virginia Tech was led by Emery, who scored 21 points, and sophomore forward Trinity Baptiste who had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Hokies. Virginia Tech did outshoot JMU from the three-point line in this game — 35 percent to 20 percent.

JMU, now 28-5 on the season, will host the Georgetown Hoyas in the quarterfinals of the WNIT on Sunday. It’s a rematch of a Nov. 16 game earlier this season where the Dukes won 69-57. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Contact Brandon Ellis ellis3bm@dukes.jmu.edu For more sports 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.”