This year’s March Madness tournament was a huge success overall for the women involved. Multiple viewership records were broken, with more people tuning in to see how the games were going. Stunning upsets occurred during the tournament, including two #1 seeds not making it to the Sweet 16. The flexibility of the transfer portal also allowed for some new teams to contend for the title. As always, there were big names to follow and keep track of throughout: Caitlin Clark, Aliyah Boston, Elizabeth Kitley, and Angel Reese, for example. I’d even argue things could’ve been more hyped up if someone like Paige Bueckers were playing too if she weren’t injured.
Photo Creds: (L) LSU Sports, (R) University of Iowa Athletics (Clark)
With the conclusion of the 2023 WNBA Draft, now fans have new talents on their professional teams to support! We saw five South Carolina players get drafted, while champions LSU had two picks and runners-up Iowa got one selection. The Dallas Wings managed to select/have the rights to four first-round selections (including three in a row from picks 3-5), all of whom played in the 2023 March Madness. Unfortunately, no Sun Belt candidate was selected in the three rounds, so there’s nothing to report on that end here. With that being said, it is time to look at how the lone Sun Belt representative performed in the tournament.
James Madison Dukes (JMU)
The Run Before the Tournament
Regular Season Performance
Non-conference Regular Season
The Dukes started out the season with a loss at home against Maine but would bounce back to get three more wins before a second loss. The Maine loss was close (60-58), but no. 13 North Carolina was a much tougher opponent to face (76-65), even though they were at home. They would close out the rest of 2022 with wins in every single matchup. They ended their non-conference regular season with 10 wins and two losses. This would also include two Hawk Classic wins in Hagan Arena, where JMU took down Eastern Michigan and Saint Joseph’s (who lost at their home).
Photo Cred: YouTube- JMUSports Photo Cred: WHSV
Conference Regular Season
They also played two conference regular season games in 2022 as well, which they won. The month of January 2023 was going solidly until they ran into the Georgia Southern Eagles (GASO), who would manage to take another game from them in early February as well. After the first GASO loss, which was yet another home loss, James Madison would go 2-3 in their next five games. This included a 1-3 away stretch that got their record from 16-3 (6-1 conference) to 18-6 (8-4).
Photo Cred: James Madison University Athletics Photo Cred: WHSV
While this could’ve tripped them up, they managed to win out the rest of the way. Well, until the end of the regular season at least, and guess what happened? Yet another maddening home loss! Marshall tripped them up 71-58 in the season finale. The final record for the Dukes sat at 23-7 (13-5), which was still good enough for first place in the conference.
The Sun Belt Tournament
Three teams finished with conference records of 13-5, but JMU won the tiebreaker because they beat both teams that were 13-5 with them (Texas State and Southern Miss). As they were in the top four teams, they got a straight bye to the quarterfinals. Waiting for them, on March 3rd, was the team that beat them in the regular-season finale: the Marshall Thundering Herd.
Photo Cred: Old Dominion University Athletics Photo Cred: SoundCloud
However, it seemed like the Dukes were feeling some type of way, the winning kind. They did not let their next opposition stop them at all, beating the 8th-seeded Marshall 62-43. After pulling off a close one against #5 Old Dominion (70-64), they then absolutely dominated #2 Texas State in the Championship Game 81-51! Congratulations to the Dukes for a great regular season and conference postseason performance!
March Madness Performance
In the 2023 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament (a.k.a. March Madness), James Madison was ranked 14th overall in Seattle Regional 3. They were set to face the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes (OSU) (28-8, 12-6 conference) on March 18th in Columbus, Ohio at Value City Arena.
Photo Cred: Buckeyes Wire
It seemed like JMU was looking good two minutes into the game with a 6-2 lead, which would then double to 8-4 two minutes later. By the 5:51 mark in the first quarter, Ohio State would tie the game up at 8 before taking their second lead 47 seconds later (10-8). From then on, though, the Dukes tried to hold off Ohio State to the best of their abilities. JMU went on a 12-1 run and would end the quarter leading 26-14.
Photo Creds: (L) Land-Grant Holy Land, (R) Daily News-Record (Germond)
The score would remain the same until 8:25 in the second quarter, which was when Caroline Germond would make a free throw. Points would be traded back and forth from 7:29-6:29, and the score would stand at 32-18, JMU. After that point, the Buckeyes would go on a 16-5 run in the rest of the quarter to edge closer to the lead. The quarter would end with JMU just holding a slight three-point lead at 37-34. 3:24 in the second quarter was the last time the Dukes would score a point, so that’s something they’d have to work on in the second half.
One minute and 50 seconds into the third quarter, the Buckeyes’ Taylor Thierry got the bucket and one to tie up things at 37. The next 3+ minutes saw the lead go back and forth between the teams until the 4:54 mark. A Taylor Mikesell layup got the score to 48-44 in favor of the Buckeyes, and they didn’t look back once they took the lead. The third quarter ended with OSU up 54-50. Germond’s two free throws did close the lead to two before Jacy Sheldon made two free throws of her own to end the quarter.
Photo Cred: Daily News-Record Photo Cred: Getty Images
Ohio State went on an 8-0 run for the first two minutes and eight seconds of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for JMU, the first times they scored back-to-back points happened with only about four and three minutes left in the game. Indeed, OSU had scored nine points between 7:52-5:36, which was a period of time when James Madison only tacked on two points to their total. With 3:47 left in the game, OSU held an unassailable 71-58 lead, and they would just keep adding to that. The 0:44 mark was when JMU added their last points of the game, a free throw made by Annalicia Goodman. That was the closest that the Dukes got to OSU (66-76). Mikesell and Rebeka Mikulasikova would add four more free throws to get the Buckeyes to the final score of 80-66.
How’d the Players Do?
G Kiki Jefferson led the way with 17 points, while G Jamia Hazell was the only other Duke to reach double digits (10 points). Forward Goodman and guard Peyton McDaniel contributed a valuable nine points each from the bench. The whole group shot 39.7% from the field and only hit three of their 16 three-pointers. Despite outrebounding OSU 44-36, they fell behind in almost every other category. 20 turnovers also don’t help their case…
Photo Cred: James Madison University Athletics (Jefferson)
73 of their 80 points came from their starters. F Cotie McMahon had a team-leading 18 points, and every starter except F Eboni Walker easily cleared the double-digit mark. Ohio State shot 40.6% from the field and hit 76.5% of their free throws, compared to 65.4% from JMU. The Buckeyes also got double-digit assists (17) and steals (10).
Photo Cred: Eleven Warriors (McMahon)