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James Madison guard Kiki Jefferson (white jersey) celebrates during the game against the George Mason patriots in Harrisonburg, Va. on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.

After closing out its nonconference slate against Maryland on Dec. 19, JMU women’s basketball began CAA play Sunday against Towson with an 89-85 comeback win. The teams played aggressively, and a foul-filled matchup paved the way for sophomore Kiki Jefferson to take the Dukes to their first conference win of the season.

“I thought we had contributions from everybody,” head coach Sean O’Regan said. “That gives me a lot of happiness because we’ve been talking about this all year and really playing for each other.”

The matchup began as the Dukes’ young roster took on the Tigers’ mature lineup. JMU held its own early on and kept a close lead throughout the first quarter. Sophomore forward Rayne Tucker took helm as an offensive leader, scoring six points, four rebounds and an assist. JMU held a 22-19 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“I think after West Virginia and Maryland, we really learned to stay together,” Tucker said. “I feel like in those games we weren’t as together as we were today even though it took a while for it to happen.”

Following the end of the first quarter, the dynamic changed as Towson began to take charge. The Tigers went on an 8-0 point streak midway through the second quarter to take the lead and create a gap. JMU missed shots and caused fouls that contributed to the gap. 

“I’m solely focused on defense first,” Tucker said. “It was just staying poise, and just trying to get everyone involved and not rush anything.”

O’Regan decided to have two different lineups on the court throughout the game; the starting lineup and a secondary lineup. The alternate lineup mixed and matched players to create a different dynamic against the Tigers. The combinations brought new aspects of JMU’s game to light, including depth in scoring and speed, helping bring the game closer throughout the second half. 

“I think it can demoralize you in a way,” O’Regan said. “We’re bringing five new players for a few minutes, and then all of a sudden our starters are back out again, so I think there can be some good to it.”

The third quarter brought more offensive frustration for the Dukes, as Towson continued to keep its momentum going following the end of the second quarter. However, Jefferson began to light up the court and take control of the game as the quarter came to a close, leading the way for JMU to begin the comeback attempt. Although quiet in the first half, Jefferson finished the game with a double-double, scoring 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“She was unbelievable, and yet I couldn’t get her the ball fast enough,” O’Regan said. “I think that’s the kind of player we know she is.”

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Dukes closed the Tigers’ gap and retook the lead. The two teams went back and forth with the lead, scoring just enough to overtake the other before Jefferson created a four point gap with only two minutes remaining. Both teams forced multiple fouls before the final buzzer, and JMU held out for the 89-85 victory, giving Jefferson and Tucker their first double-doubles of CAA play.

“Honestly, I’m a confident player, but I suppose though that this is another target on my back,” Jefferson said. “It’s just after this game, this is something I know I can do, and I just have to keep it up.”

JMU will travel to Towson as they finish off the home-and-home series on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Contact Madison Hricik at hricikmn@dukes.jmu.edu. For more basketball coverage, follow The Breeze Sports on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.