Dukes Take Down USF To Advance To WNIT Third Round

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (JMU Athletics) -- James Madison women's basketball extends into postseason play for the WNIT Third Round for the third straight year with a 71-54 win over USF. The Dukes improved to 27-5 on the season which is the most wins since the 2014-15 when JMU went 29-4.

The Dukes and Bulls (19-16) battled back and forth to open up the WNIT Second Round, as Kamiah Smalls made her way back into the starting lineup. JMU led 12-10 midway through the opening frame, with Smalls putting up eight of those points. USF went on a 6-0 run with Shae Leverett adding four of those points to lead 18-13. Madison Green and Devon Merritt combined for five points in the waning seconds to trail by one, 18-17.

The Dukes controlled the pace in the second quarter allowing just two USF field goals. Behind 12 points from Jackie Benitez who hit three from deep range, the JMU went on an 18-1 run. It was a 42-26 lead at the break.

JMU and USF came into the second half going toe-to-toe. The Dukes went cold from the floor, but were able to keep their defense strong and stay ahead despite a 6-0 Bulls run. JMU led 52-45 with one quarter to play.

Benitez scored 11 of JMU's 19 fourth-quarter points hitting three from behind the arc. The Dukes shot 58.3-percent from the floor in the final frame to wrap up the 71-54 victory.

GAME NOTES
- Benitez scored 26 points for a season-high
- Her seven three-pointers made were the most by a JMU player since Kirby Burkholder hit eight at Northeastern on Mar. 5, 2014.
- Benitez now has 83 three's on the season which is 10th most for a JMU player
- Kayla Cooper-Williams recorded five blocks and now sits in sixth most in CAA history with 91 on the season
- The Dukes have 201 team blocks, which is one away from tying the program record
- This marked the 29-straight home victory, which is the third longest in program history
- Logan Reynolds tied Sydney Beasley with 192 steals in a JMU career

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Coach Sean O'Regan: "What an awesome game. From start to finish our 'leader of swag' was back. If there was doubt or pressure, she released that pressure. I couldn't believe she launched that three and it went in. She never got frustrated and obviously when Benitez shoots like that there are not many teams that can play with us. Kayla was gritty, Aneah was gritty, Logan was gritty as always. I'm proud of our effort from start to finish."

Jackie Benitez: "At this point, we're playing for our seniors it's win or go home so we need to keep playing. Today, everything felt good"

Kamiah Smalls: "I think it came with our heart. We came out and we were relentless we knew we were going to win. I think it was our heart that was our edge."

UP NEXT
The Duke will host Virginia Tech on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m. in the WNIT Third Round in the Convocation Center.

TICKET INFO
PRIORITY DEADLINE - TUESDAY, MARCH 26 AT 5 P.M. - Season ticket holders must purchase WNIT quarterfinal round tickets by the priority deadline on March 26 at 5 p.m. in order to receive their regular seat location. Questions? Contact the Athletic Ticket Office at 540-568-3853 or emailathletic-ticket@jmu.edu.
Ticket Prices
Reserved - $11
General Admission - $8
General Admission Senior (62+) - $6
Youth (ages 6-17) - $6
JMU Faculty/Staff - $6
JMU Students (with JACard) - FREE