Women's hoops coming together

Senior guard Kiki Jefferson and fellow Dukes huddle together versus Marshall on Feb. 24 in a 71-58 loss. After winning three straight since in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, the Dukes’ run came to an end Saturday in the NCAA Tournament to No. 3-seeded Ohio State, 80-66.

It was JMU’s game at the start of the first quarter and majority of the second thanks to senior guard Kiki Jefferson and junior guard Jamia Hazell, who scored a combined 21 points in the first half.

But No. 14-seeded JMU ultimately lost to No. 3 Ohio State, 80-66, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday as the Buckeyes started to hit shots, ending JMU's season at 26-8 (13-5 Sun Belt).

“I thought we fought,” JMU head coach Sean O’Regan said. “I thought we came out the aggressor, we got on them pretty good from the start.” 

O’Regan has been on JMU women’s basketball’s coaching staff for the past 15 seasons. In 2016, he was promoted to head coach for the Dukes one year after JMU last made March Madness, making Saturday his first appearance in the big dance at the helm of the Dukes.

JMU jumped out to a 26-14 lead in the first quarter, which was the most JMU’s scored in a first quarter this season.

Jefferson scored seven points in the first, knocking down her only 3-pointer of the game. JMU went 3-for-16 from 3-point range as a whole, with all the 3s coming in the first quarter.

As the second quarter picked up, O’Regan said JMU “eventually ran out of gas a little bit” against the Buckeyes’ press. Ohio State went to a full-court press and got back in the game, which led to six second-quarter JMU turnovers. JMU graduate guard Caroline Germond, who committed four turnovers, said it was hard to see the floor as a smaller 5-foot-7 guard.

JMU struggled toward the end of the second quarter as Ohio State erupted on a 15-3 run, allowing the Buckeyes to end the second quarter trailing 37-34 while forcing nine JMU turnovers. 

While the second half came around, Ohio State's offense clicked as it regained the lead at the 5:18 mark in the third quarter, 46-44. O’Regan said JMU “didn’t have the same bounce to it” in the third quarter, and the frame ended with JMU trailing, 54-50. 

The Buckeyes continued to ride their momentum, outscoring JMU 26-16 in the fourth quarter to win comfortably, 80-66. 

After the loss, though, O’Regan took ample time to recognize his seniors, who he said changed JMU’s culture “back to what it’s supposed to be” after a rare losing season last year. O’Regan started with Jefferson, who he said he’s known for seven years. 

“She has been family in my life for a long time. To me, she is exactly what I want this program built on, which is an enthusiastic basketball mind,” O’Regan said. “You talk about loyalty, always being family and always wanting that relationship ... I can’t even explain how much this one means to me.” 

For Germond, the Dukes’ other senior, O’Regan said that despite her short time in Harrisonburg, her impact will last for much longer than this season. 

“My first phone call with Caroline was in May. I think it is absolutely unbelievable what she’s done for this program and myself and her teammates since she's gotten here in August, it's eight months,” O’Regan said. “Her approach, how hard she works, never in a bad mood, her workmanship mentality permeates through the whole team.”

While the Dukes return home to Harrisonburg, No. 3 Ohio State faces No. 6 North Carolina on Monday.

Contact Matthew Taddei at taddeimj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more women's basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.