Women's hoops celebrating after arrival home

JMU women's basketball team celebrates with friends and family in Harrisonburg, Virginia, after its championship win over Texas State in the Sun Belt tournament, 81-51. JMU next faces Ohio State in the first round of March Madness on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. 

For the first time in seven years, JMU women’s basketball has made the NCAA Tournament. The No. 14 Dukes are set to play No. 3 Ohio State in the first round on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, the Buckeyes’ home court.

This will be the fourth-ever time these two teams have faced one another, the last being in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, when the Buckeyes defeated the Dukes, 90-80.

After finishing the season 26-7 (13-5 Sun Belt) and winning the Sun Belt championship with a  win over Texas State, 81-51, the Dukes are dancing in their 13th women’s March Madness.

Ohio State finished the season 25-7 (12-6 Big Ten) and fell to Iowa in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, 105-72. This is the Buckeyes’ 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Players to watch

JMU senior guard Kiki Jefferson catalyzed the Dukes this season. She was named Sun Belt Player of the Year and led JMU with 18.3 points accompanied with 7.9 rebounds per game. 

Alongside Jefferson, junior guard Peyton McDaniel made some strong performances this season. After returning from an injury she sustained in the 2021-22 season, she was named the Sun Belt Sixth Woman of the Year this year, averaging 11.6 points per game and 4.5 rebounds. In the Sun Belt championship game, McDaniel had herself a day, after going 7-for-7 on 3-pointers en route to racking 30 points and nine rebounds. 

For Ohio State, senior guard Taylor Mikesell has led the Buckeyes this season with 17.3 points per game. This is Mikesell’s second season with the Buckeyes after transferring from Oregon and, before then, Maryland. There’s also a handful of young talent for Ohio State this year, including freshman guard Cotie McMahon, who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after she averaged 14.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

One Duke that could give the Buckeyes’ offense some trouble is graduate guard Caroline Germond. The TCU  transfer totaled 34 steals this season, and in the Sun Belt tournament, Germond’s defense helped stymie Marshall’s junior guards Abby Beeman and Roshala Scott, who both gave the Dukes trouble in their final conference game of the season — the 37 points that were scored between the two gave JMU its final conference loss, 71-58.  When these two teams faced each other again in the second round of the tournament, Germond’s scrappy defense held the two of them to 23 points total, and the Dukes won, 62-43.  

What the numbers say

The Dukes averaged 69.7 points per game this season, while the Buckeyes ranked eighth  in the nation averaging 80.8 points per contest. 

JMU out-rebounds the Buckeyes 42.6 to 35.8 on average per game. Jefferson leads the Dukes with 7.9 rebounds per game while sophomore guard Taylor Thierry leads the Buckeyes with 6.8.

The Buckeyes’ defense averages 11.3 steals per game, which is 10th in the nation, and 3.5 blocks per game. The Dukes average 5.9 steals per game alongside 2.3 blocks per game. 

The Dukes hold a slim 72%-69.5% advantage from the free-throw line, and Jefferson is fourth in the nation with 196 free throws made this year, shooting  79.7% from the charity stripe. 

The bottom line

A No. 14 seed has never beaten a No. 3 in the women’s NCAA Tournament. But if JMU can slow the game down and get to the free throw line, it may have a chance to pull off the upset over the Big Ten runner-up. The game tips off at1:30 p.m. Saturday and can be watched on ESPN2.

Contact Kaiden Bridges at bridg4ke@dukes.jmu.edu. For more women’s basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.