Guru's Overniter: Elon Upsets Host JMU to Take CAA Title and First-Ever NCAA Bid
So much for home court advantage in the Colonial Athletic Association and all hail to Elon.
After being taken down twice during the season by previous reigning champion James Madison, the Phoenix struck back Saturday night at the Dukes’ JMU Convocation Center with a dominating 78-60 win to earn the conference championship and ensuing NCAA tournament automatic bid.
It’s the first championship for Elon (27-6), which is in its third season as a CAA member, in the program’s 18-year history as an NCAA Division I affiliate.
JMU (24-8) is not considered a strong at-large candidate for the NCAA field so will likely land among the 64 teams in the WNIT.
The win was only the second in nine meetings with the Dukes and puts Elon coach Charlotte Smith in a special group who played and coached in the NCAA women’s tournament.
As a star for North Carolina, Smith hit the famous three-pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of regulation giving the Tar Heels the 2004 come-from-behind NCAA championship over Louisiana Tech.
“You know I’m hardly ever at a loss for words but I’m still pinching myself itself because it still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Smith said. “I’m so proud of this team and the effort we put forth in all three games in the tournament.”
Lauren Brown, named the CAA tourney’s most outstanding player, led for Elon players, scoring in double figures with 17 points, while Essence Baucom scored 16, and Malaya Johnson and Shay Burnett each scored 14 points. Burnett picked up a double double with 10 rebounds.
“Being part of this team has been a phenomenal experience,” Brown said. “I feel like we’ve been working for this moment for four years.”
JMU had won the last three championships and was after the Dukes’ ninth overall.
Senior Precious Hall had 32 points but made only 10 of 33 shots from the field.
“It seemed like every move we made they capitalized on,” said JMU first-year coach Sean O’Reagan. “It seemed every shot they threw up was a splash.”
“It was a tough one to swallow,” the first year JMU coach said. “It wasn’t our day. I thought we showed some fight at the end, but for whatever reason we couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
JMU, whose RPI is 39, was the preseason favorite in the coaches’ poll but Elon was second.
“The one proud moment for me is we fight to the end, that’s what we do,” O’Reagan said. “But I’m crushed. I’m crushed with the result.”
Next year the tournament goes to Drexel while in 2019 Delaware will be the host.
Drexel’s Sarah Curran joined Hall, Burnett, Baucom and William & Mary’s Marlena Tremba on the all-tournament team.
Long Beach Ends Conference Championship Drought
There were few surprise winners of tournaments and many of the teams first in standings before playoffs got under way made it to the championship rounds to be played Sunday.
One surprise winner came in the Big West, where the second-seeded 49ers beat UC Santa Barbara 56-55 to earn their first NCAA appearance since 1992, 25 years ago and first conference title since one year earlier in 1991.
“I am just overcome with emotion,” said Long Beach coach Jody Wynn. “This is why I came to Long Beach. “I wanted to bring back a championship to the Beach and my coaching colleagues have all been champions and I just felt we weren’t holding up our end of the bargain for a little while.”
The Gauchos erased a 19-point deficit to go up 53-51 late in the game.
Madison Montgomery’s trey gave the lead back to LBS 54-53 and a steal and a layup upped the score to 56-53 with 1:03 left.
UCSB got to within a point on a pair of foul shots and another foul shot with 11 seconds left but the 49ers’ defense held off the Gauchos to make them 23-10 heading into the NCAAs.
In the Mid-American Tournament in Cleveland, Toledo topped fourth-seeded Northern Illinois 82-71 to earn the sixth-seeded Rockets their first title since 2001 and first-ever championship for coach Tricia Cullop in her 17 seasons holding head coaching positions.
Mikaela Boyd had 27 points and 14 rebounds for Toledo (25-8).
In Sunday’s last day of conference title games prior to Monday night’s revelation of the 2017 NCAA field at 7 p.m. on ESPN-TV, besides No. 1 Penn meeting No. 2 Princeton in the first-ever Ivy tournament title game at The Palestra, first place Stetson will play for the Atlantic Sun championship, No. 1 Radford will be competing in the Big South, Top-seeded Drake, the only nationally ranked team playing this week, made to the championship of the Missouri Valley, and likewise for Robert Morris in the Northeast, and Bucknell in the Patriot hosting Navy.
Also No. 1 Central Arkansas made it to the Southland title game but top-seeded Little Rock got taken down in Saturday’s Sun Belt semifinals by Louisiana 79-71.
None of these conference leaders have a chance to be tossed at-large invites by the NCAA committee if they fell short of winning their leagues.
Temple has the top RPI among area teams.
The local list and their RPIs
Penn State 87
Saint Joseph’s 113
La Salle 170