James Madison beats Drexel 60-46 to win CAA, earn NCAA berth
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) Though the victory was assured much earlier, James Madison coach Kenny Brooks waited until there was 27 seconds left to remove his starters from the Colonial Athletic Association title game.
Senior Jazmon Gwathmey walked off the floor and into a warm embrace from Brooks, much to the delight of the purple-clad fans in the crowd.
With Gwathmey leading the way, the Dukes won their third consecutive CAA championship Saturday, taking control at the outset and cruising past cold-shooting Drexel 60-46.
JMU (27-5) will bring a 20-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. The run includes three wins over the Dragons (19-13), who were looking for their first league title since 2009.
Gwathmey, the CAA Player of the Year, made half of her 18 shots, collected four rebounds and, at the end, absorbed a meaningful hug from her appreciative coach.
''A very special moment,'' Brooks said.
''It meant a lot because this is what we work for,'' Gwathmey said. ''It's definitely the way you want to go out your senior year, especially winning three in a row.''
Top-seeded JMU scored the game's first 10 points, led by 14 at halftime and coasted to the finish. The Dukes haven't lost since falling in overtime against William & Mary in early January.
Da'Lishia Griffin had 11 points and 16 rebounds for James Madison, and Angela Mickens scored 14 points. Ashley Perez finished with 10.
Jackie Schluth led Drexel with eight points. The Dragons went 19 for 62 (31 percent) from the floor, made only three 3-pointers and were outrebounded 45-35.
''A cold night of shooting,'' coach Denise Dillon said. ''When we make shots early, our defense is on point and our offense is executed nicely. Unfortunately, we started off kind of slow and were trying to climb back the entire contest.''
Asked about the Dukes' lopsided edge in rebounding, Dillon replied: ''We missed a lot of shots, and they came up with the rebounds.''
Drexel missed its first nine shots in falling behind 10-0. It was 13-4 after a first quarter in which the teams combined to make only six of 30 field-goal tries.
''I was actually surprised how open we were early,'' Dillon said. ''We got some easy looks. We didn't knock them down.''
A layup by Jessica Pellechio got the Dragons within seven before Griffin scored inside and Mickens followed with a three-point play for a 20-8 lead. After Schluth scored, Gwathmey hit a 3-pointer and a jumper to expand the margin to 15 points.
Mickens drilled a 3 just before the buzzer at halftime for a 31-17 lead.
Drexel used three straight baskets to close to 39-27 in the third quarter, but that's as close as the Dragons would get.
Two straight jumpers by Gwathmey quelled the surge, and JMU led 47-30 entering the fourth quarter. It was 57-36 with 5:16 remaining.
''Jazmon does a lot of everything,'' Dillon said. ''I don't think there was one shot she didn't have somebody in her face. She really is a unique player.''
Brooks believes the Dukes benefited from playing in the title game in each of the previous two years.
''We've been here before. I thought paid dividends for us early,'' he said. ''I thought (Drexel) was a little bit nervous. We were a little bit more relaxed.''
Dillon said her players were ''a little tight, a little anxious'' in the pivotal opening minutes.
JMU: The Dukes lead the all-time series 21-11 and have won eight straight. ... In 10 appearances as the CAA top seed, JMU has won the tournament eight times.
Drexel: Sarah Curran, first-team All-CAA for a second straight year, went 2 for 10 and finished with four points in 29 minutes. ... Senior Carrie Alexander played in her 100th career game. She scored seven points, all in the second half.
JMU: The Dukes will learn their destination in the NCAA Tournament on Monday night.
Drexel: Should secure a spot in the WNIT.