In a recent closed scrimmage, Elon University senior forward Josepha Mbouma looked up and saw head women’s basketball coach Charlotte Smith’s clipboard.
On it was an image of the James Madison University women’s basketball team holding the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament trophy and the message, “Who’s working harder, you or them?”
It tugs at the memory of Elon’s 63-60 loss to the Dukes in the CAA Tournament in March, a game that came down to the final minute.
The Phoenix missed three shots that would’ve tied the game, including a pair of 3-pointers from then-senior forward Sam Coffer in the last 20 seconds.
Now, that loss is engraved in the players’ minds.
“It’s been a constant reminder that we were three points away, a boxout away,” Mbouma said. “It’s a constant reminder that it’s the little things, it’s focus, it’s one more rep that separates us from a win or a loss, that separates us from playing in the champion
The Dukes went on to win the CAA championship the next day — an image Smith decided to use to her advantage.
That same picture is hung in each player’s locker, too.
The players have even noticed the game being used by James Madison, as the Dukes’ social media team posted a video from a game against Elon.
“A couple of us saw JMU post a clip of them playing us, and it was a good clip for them and a bad clip for us,” said junior forward Jenifer Rhodes. “That got us a little excited for the season and just to start playing and competing. In losing that game by three points, the mentality for the returners in knowing we could’ve won the game, all of us have experienced that.”
lon had previously lost at home to James Madison 68-51 Jan. 15 and then got blown out 89-60 Jan. 29 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The semifinal contest was easily the closest game out of the three, and it is still something Smith reminisces about.
Now, she’s using the game as a message for her team leading into this season.
“I just watched the last three minutes of it last week,” Smith said. “We talked about it last week in practice. The biggest thing is, right now, I’m trying to get [the Elon players] to focus on the details and doing the little things.
“Within that last three minutes of the game, there were just little things that we’ve been talking about throughout each practice — that we still have not quite mastered — that can be the difference in you being a champion and a runner-up.”
The players have been embracing Smith’s message, understanding that it is the minutiae that differentiates teams in the CAA and throughout college basketball.
Elon’s focus isn’t just centered around James Madison, but the Dukes are the one opponent from last year who left a bitter taste in Elon’s mouth.
“Of course we have to think about all the other teams, but everyone thinks about JMU,” Rhodes said. “That game is the last thing we remember, and we really think about that. I think we’re definitely hungry this year.”
For one player, though, the game doesn’t need to be a constant reminder.
“Even though coach mentions the JMU game, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary,” said junior guard Lauren Brown. “We all have this mentality that we know what we can do. We want to bring that same energy and effort that we brought to the tournament to every game this season.”
Sophomore guard Shay Burnett, who led the team with 18 points in the semifinal game, recognizes that there are multiple similarities between the Phoenix and the Dukes.
“My mom always says, ‘We put on our jerseys the same way they do.’ Our teams are kind of similar,” Burnett said. “As we get better throughout practices, scrimmages and exhibitions, we’re going to be able to really compete with them and actually get a win this year.”
With all of the returning players — only two players on the active roster, freshman guard/forward Nikki McDonald and junior guard Maddie McCallie, did not play last season — Elon is hoping to lean on experience to be able to top the Dukes, and anyone else in the CAA, this year.