Kamiah Smalls

Junior guard Kamiah Smalls led the Dukes returned to the quarter after missing nearly three games with injury.

JMU women’s basketball advanced to the third round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament with a 71-54 victory over the University of South Florida on Sunday. Junior guard Kamiah Smalls scored 17 points in her first full return since injuring her hand in the regular-season finale, while redshirt junior guard Jackie Benitez chimed in with 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting.

“Hand it to James Madison, with that they’ve been through and their injuries,” USF coach Jose Fernandez said. “The type of year they had they’re a NCAA tournament team … it’s a shame they’re not playing in that tournament.”

Smalls shot 4-of-10 from the field, but her presence on the court made it easier for the rest of the team. Smalls felt the energy of the Convocation Center in her return to the court.

“It’s amazing, I literally missed this so much,” Smalls said. “I’ve been going crazy on the sideline, but to be back in the Convo playing with my teammates in front of our crowd is amazing.”

The Bulls controlled the tempo early and used their size to grab offensive rebounds to get easy second-chance points. The Dukes managed to stick around due to a strong start by Smalls and freshman guard Maddie Green — leading to a slight 18-17 deficit at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter started out similar as both teams traded buckets up until the media timeout. Once both teams came out of the timeout, the Dukes went on a 18-1 run to end the half up 42-26. JMU received a huge standing ovation from the Convo in the final seconds of the second quarter.

“You remember moments as you look back on seasons, I’ll remember that one,” O’Regan said. “They just let it go and let it fly. The first quarter was tough, [USF] was scoring a lot, we made a couple of adjustments. … it gives me goosebumps watching Jackie [Benitez] do that, when she’s launching them it’s like ‘yep that one is going in.’”

USF would pull within reach by the end of the third quarter, but JMU finished the Bulls by 10 in the final period. The Dukes’ ability to control the tempo when needed helped seal the win at the end.

“Logan was looking at me quite a bit dribbling the ball up the floor,” O’Regan said. “I just told her, ‘Look, I’ll stop you, but we need to get this thing and play with better tempo.’ She’s fully locked in to that concept, but that was it, it was a very minor thing.”

JMU, now 27-5 on the season, will host Virginia Tech and former JMU head coach Kenny Brooks on Thursday — his first time he’s stepped into the Convocation Center since he took the Virginia Tech job in 2016. Tip-off is set for 7 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.”