William and Mary dropped a closely contested game to James Madison, 68-63 Sunday at Kaplan Arena. The Tribe (5-15, 3-6 CAA) fell short against the Colonial Athletic Association’s No. 2 team after surrendering a 15-point lead in the first half.
The game began favorably for the College. After falling behind 6-2 in the opening minutes, the Tribe went on a scorching 19-0 run and jumped out to a 21-6 lead. During the run, the Tribe forced five JMU turnovers.
The Dukes showed resiliency, however, storming back into the game with eight consecutive points. The Tribe had a number of good looks, but too often failed to find the basket as the College’s formidable lead crumbled late in the half.
The Dukes asserted themselves throughout the contest with physical play, aggressively boxing out on rebounds and challenging the Tribe on the perimeter as it battled back into the game.
Despite JMU’s late surge, the Tribe rode 11 first-half points from senior forward Emily Correal to grab a 36-31 halftime advantage over the favored Dukes. The Tribe benefited from steady ball movement, surrendering only six turnovers in the first half while forcing 10 JMU turnovers.
Senior guard Janine Aldridge struggled to score as JMU defenders hounded her on the perimeter, but her four assists, two steals and reliably intense play helped the Tribe keep the Dukes at an arm’s length in the first half.
“They were all over me. … I was just trying to set harder screens so I could get the ball and help out,” Aldridge said.
After playing catch-up for several minutes, the Dukes closed the deficit in the second half, tying the game at 42-42 five minutes into the period and peaking with a dominant 56-42 lead.
As JMU’s lead grew, it became clear how much they physically overwhelmed the Tribe. Overpowering the Tribe at all spots on the court at the beginning of the second half, the Dukes scored 17 consecutive points with startling efficiency.
The Tribe was held scoreless for a staggering seven minutes before Aldridge’s three-pointer broke the slump. During that scoreless stretch, the Tribe consistently created shooting opportunities but simply could not convert against the fierce JMU defense.
The Tribe showed impressive will late in the game, closing the gap to 66-61 with one minute remaining. The rally ultimately fell short, however, as JMU converted two late free throws to seal the game with a 68-63 final score. The Dukes were often a step ahead of the College’s full court pressure defense, pushing the ball up court and scoring 36 points in paint.
Correal led all players with an impressive 28 points on 8 of 15 shooting. Junior forward Kaitlyn Mathieu, with 10 points. was the only other Tribe player to score in double figures. Aldridge struggled at times create and knock down jump shots, but she did contribute nine points and six assists.
Ultimately, the Dukes’ defense throttled the Tribe in the second half, holding them to 22.6 percent shooting in the second half. JMU used that physical play to out-rebound the Tribe 48-34 and seemed to get an offensive rebound at every critical moment in the second half, scoring 14 second half points.
“They’re definitely one of the stronger teams we’ve played. … It was really a battle underneath,” Correal said.
Ultimately, the Tribe can take some satisfaction from contending with one of the CAA’s top teams for much of the contest, but the squandered 15-point lead and the seven-minute scoreless stretch derailed the College’s upset hopes.
“There’s definitely disappointment. … Even though they’re second place, we definitely felt like we could’ve beaten them. … But we won three in a row, so we still have that winning mentality, and we’re looking forward to our next opponent,” Correal said.