JMU Women’s Basketball Advances to Sun Belt Championship Game

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

For the second consecutive season, JMU women’s basketball heads to the Sun Belt Championship game.

The third-seeded Dukes (23-10) defeated No. 7 seed Louisiana 64-54 in Sunday afternoon’s Sun Belt semifinals. JMU won the defensive battle to secure its spot in Monday afternoon’s championship game against top-seeded Marshall.

“It was a grind today,” JMU head coach Sean O’Regan said.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Christopher William Jewelers for their advertising support this basketball season.

Defensive slugfest

While Friday’s quarterfinal win seemingly came easily to the Dukes, Sunday’s semifinal was a different story.

Neither team found much of an offensive rhythm, as JMU stifled Louisiana (it shot just 31% from the floor and 15.8% from 3-point range) and the Dukes’ struggled with turnovers (21) offensively.

Still, JMU found enough offense late to defeat the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The Dukes attacked the rim, with Kseniia Kozlova finishing with 12 points on 5-6 shooting. She looked fresher Sunday, her second game back since injury caused her to miss about a month. Peyton McDaniel added 13 points and four rebounds in a solid showing.

Ashanti Barnes played quite well, contributing eight points and 14 rebounds, relentlessly crashing the glass. JMU outrebounded Louisiana 53-25, tallying 17 second-chance points to Louisiana’s zero. The Dukes’ energy when rebounding and defending ultimately pushed them to a win.

“I thought our rebound margin was our muscle and kind of our reason we were able to control the game,” O’Regan said.

Sunday’s game wasn’t always pretty, but the Dukes were gritty. That was enough.

Marshall grudge match

Sunday’s gutsy win puts JMU one win away from a spot in the NCAA Tournament. To reach the Big Dance, the Dukes need to beat an elite Marshall team (25-6, 17-1 SBC) that dominated conference teams all season.

Marshall and JMU split their regular season meetings, with each team winning on the road. Marshall’s home loss to the Dukes is the Thundering Herd’s lone conference loss this season.

JMU enters Monday’s matchup as an underdog, but the Dukes have a championship pedigree and a blueprint to beat Marshall.

“We know it’s not going to be easy,” McDaniel said. “They’re in the championship for a reason, but so are we.”

Monday’s game tips off at 2 p.m. ET and will air on ESPNU.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *