basketball

Hall Rallies Dukes Past Cavaliers

HARRISONBURG — Off the high of making a 3-pointer to give her team the lead, Precious Hall made a gutsy play — she took a charge.

The senior already had four fouls against her when Dominique Toussaint came barreling down the baseline toward Hall with 45 seconds left. A fifth foul would have been the end of the day for the Dukes’ star player, but that never crossed her mind as she readied herself for Toussaint’s contact.

“I knew she made contact with me and I know she lowered her shoulder, and that’s how you take a charge,” Hall said. “I was like if she touches me, I’ll fall and see what the referee does. At that point I had four [fouls], but I knew if I got my fifth, my teammates would come back in and finish the game for me.”

Hall would never have to find out if her teammates would rally the troops as the referee whistled Toussaint for a charge and the Dukes made five free throws down the stretch to preserve a 61-55 win over Virginia in the second round of the WNIT on Sunday at the Convocation Center.

“I don’t think she was thinking much, it was just a reaction,” JMU coach Sean O’Regan said. “She stepped up and took it over at both ends at that point in time.”

In a fashion befitting a star player, Hall led the charge to extend her JMU career at least one more game. She drew a foul on a jump shot to cut a four-point Cavaliers lead in half and then forced a stop on the defensive end to give JMU the ball with a minute left.

O’Regan called timeout to set up a play and as the teams were returning to the floor, he told Hall about her impending 3-pointer. Once the senior rolled to the top of the 3-point arc and saw no one within 2 feet of her, she let the shot fly and watched as it fell through the basket to give JMU (26-8) the final advantage in a contest that featured 15 lead changes.

Hall credited her ability to take over the game to the message O’Regan gave her right before she made the winning shot.

“When you have a coach like O, he makes you feel like you’re the best player in the world,” Hall said. “When you have someone like that in your ear, it gives you all the confidence in the world.”

Hall’s personal 7-0 run that converted a four-point deficit into a three-point lead brought her total to a game-high 28, the only JMU player to finish in double figures. However, the gap would have been larger if not for the scrappiness the Dukes showed in the fourth quarter.

JMU committed 10 turnovers in the second half, seven of which came during a nearly six-minute span in which Virginia (20-13) went on an 8-0 run to take a three-point lead. However, the Dukes tightened up on the glass and outrebounded the Cavaliers 13-5 in the last 10 minutes to keep JMU within striking distance.

The Dukes finished with a 38-32 edge in rebounding.

“All of that comes with our pride,” freshman guard Kamiah Smalls said. “We never want to be beaten on the boards. We know the number one thing O always harps on is to rebound and to crash and let somebody else go get the ball, and we did a really good job at that tonight.”

The key to the improved rebounding effort was junior forward Tasia Butler, who collected four of her team-best seven rebounds in the fourth quarter. After largely being bottled up by Virginia’s size advantage in the first three quarters, the junior broke through to either grab loose balls or poke them toward her teammates to help them corral them.

With junior Amber Porter struggling with fouls and sophomore Savannah Felgemacher unable to break free, Butler’s effort was necessary to prevent Virginia from dominating more than it did in the low post.

“Why I’m so proud of her is she doesn’t always get the credit but she never stops working,” O’Regan said. “She’s an absolute warrior and we would not be where we are without Tasia Butler.”

The Dukes advance to host Villanova at 7 p.m. Thursday in the third round of the WNIT. The Wildcats (18-14) defeated Drexel 56-51 on Sunday.

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