HARRISONBURG, Va. — Just when it seemed like the Elon University women’s basketball team would finally avenge its demons and defeat conference kingpin James Madison University for the first time in school history, it all fell apart, as Elon crumbled down the stretch and lost to the Dukes 61-54 Sunday afternoon in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Elon took a 44-41 lead into the fourth quarter and made the first basket of the frame to push its lead up to five, but James Madison’s stagnant offense finally clicked again, rolling through the Phoenix on a 16-2 run to jump from down by five to up by nine.
Elon’s offense turned anemic as the Dukes heated up, turning the ball over six times in the fourth while only making three shots. Junior guard Shay Burnett, who led the Phoenix with 12 points, felt the team tightened up.
“When they made a little run, we kind of got antsy and started forcing stuff on offense,” Burnett said. “We don’t normally do that.”
It took just once glance at the box score for head coach Charlotte Smith to see where she felt Elon lost the game, with Elon shooting 19-of-63 (30.2 percent) and the Phoenix losing the rebounding battle 47-38, the first time it has done so in more than a month.
“I think a lot of things on the stat sheet speak volumes as to why we weren’t successful today,” Smith said. “Typically, we are a lot better on the boards and we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well today. Really kind of boils down to those two things.”
After James Madison put up 22 in the first quarter, Elon buckled down defensively, allowing nine points in the second and 10 in the third. But Elon allowed 20 points in the fourth, not able to find consistency on the defensive end.
“I guess it’s just intensity,” Burnett said. “We know we needed to win this game. We need to play defense for the whole 40 minutes, it can’t just be spurts like that. That burst of energy we had in those two periods.”
Smith added, “We did a lot of good things defensively, and then we did some things that were totally out of the gameplan. It’s like, if we can lock in for 40 minutes and make sure we’re executing to the T things that we’re looking for defensively, I think that gives us a chance.”
Elon was able to keep James Madison redshirt senior guard Precious Hall in check, only allowing her to score five points in the first three quarters. But Hall scored 10 of the Dukes’ 20 in the fourth, finishing with 15. But after she dropped 41 in the Dukes’ win at Elon Jan. 20, the Phoenix felt satisfied with its defense on her.
“We just wanted to force her to take tough shots, tougher shots than the last time,” Smith said. “I felt like there wasn’t enough activity and pressure on her when she had the ball at our place, so we wanted to pressure her and make her take tough shots. She still got looks, but I felt like they were tougher shots.”
While Hall was kept in check, redshirt junior forward Amber Porter led all players with 20 points for James Madison in just 19 minutes. Her efforts led the Dukes to their fifth-straight single-digit win over Elon, something James Madison head coach Sean O’Regan does not forget.
“They’re tough, and that game can go either way,” O’Regan said. “Same with at their place, and same with the last three meetings before that. It’s a testament to our perseverance, but it’s not like we don’t respect them. I’m glad that we pulled it out, but they’re tough, and it’s not going to be any different the next time we play them.”
The loss drops Elon to 16-6 overall and 11-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association, putting them in a tie with James Madison for first but behind in the standings via tiebreaker rules. The Phoenix returns home for a two-game stint, hosting Hofstra University Friday night and the College of William & Mary Sunday afternoon.