In a game rife with emotions in wake of the Southview Apartments fire in Harrisonburg, Virginia earlier in the day and Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks’ first return to James Madison since leaving to take the job at Tech, the James Madison Dukes (27-5) outfought Virginia Tech Hokies (22-11) 70–66 in their Women’s National Invitational Tournament Sweet 16 matchup and Coach Brooks' homecoming.
From the jump, it was apparent that the Hokies and the Dukes were going to duke it out until the final buzzer sounded in the JMU Convocation Center. Neither team was able to create enough separation to pull away from the other throughout, as the largest lead of the game by either team was seven points.
Through two quarters of action, Virginia Tech lead James Madison 35–34 as both teams fed off the emotion they each came into the game with. The Hokies were looking to win for head coach Kenny Brooks in his return to his alma mater and previous coaching job, while the Dukes sought to soften the blow of the fires and uplift the sorrow spirits of their community with a victory.
The ensuing 20 minutes brought cheers, jeers, tears and everything in between. After James Madison mounted a seven-point lead with 2:06 left to go in the third quarter, Virginia Tech attempted to surmount a late game comeback.
Trailing for the remainder of the third quarter and for nearly the entire final frame until the last minute of the game, Taylor Emery gave Virginia Tech a 66–65 advantage with 54 seconds left, wetting a stepback of an in-between-the-legs crossover over Devon Merritt, who had just made the previous basket.
After James Madison’s Kamiah Smalls hit back-to-back free throws to put it at 68–66 with 31 seconds left, Coach Brooks called a full timeout. On the following play, the Hokies called upon Emery, who had scored the team’s last seven points, to win the game.
Virginia Tech’s leading scorer with 21 points tried to force another shooting foul on a three-point attempt, but the refs swallowed the whistle. Aneah Young blocked a one-dribble stepback. However, there was some contact after the shot, but no foul was called. Logan Reynolds would ice the game, knocking down two free throws to make it a two-possession game with under a second remaining.
The James Madison Dukes move to 28-5 and serve host to the Georgetown Hoyas, a team they beat 69-57 earlier in the season, for a WNIT Elite Eight showdown on Sunday at 2 p.m. To add insult to injury, James Madison head coach Sean O’Regan tied his predecessor and mentor Kenny Brooks’ mark for most consecutive home games won in James Madison women’s basketball history with the win.
With the loss, Virginia Tech drops to 22-12 on the season after its WNIT Sweet 16 run ends in heartbreaking fashion. Complimenting Emery’s performance, Regan Magarity finished with 10 points and nine rebounds as the seniors played in their final collegiate game.
Next year’s core of Trinity Baptiste, Dara Mabrey and Aisha Sheppard rung in some strong games as well. Baptiste, who will be filling Magarity’s shoes in the post, registered a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Mabrey and Sheppard combined for 17 points, three rebounds and two assists.
It has been an up-and-down season for Virginia Tech women’s basketball. Brooks’ unit dominated non-conference play, going undefeated, but lost its first seven ACC games, which resulted in a WNIT berth. Despite this, the team made the best of its situation, advancing to a third straight WNIT Sweet 16. After four straight WNIT appearances, the Hokies will seek to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 next season.