Coach Diane Richardson has tailored her Towson women’s basketball team to play an up-tempo style, practically daring opponents to keep up.
The Tigers demonstrated how dangerous they can be when they tap into that speed, falling behind early only to outrace visiting James Madison, 83-74, on Wednesday afternoon at SECU Arena.
Towson improved to 10-3 overall and 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and extended their winning streak to five games behind redshirt senior shooting guard Kionna Jeter’s 31 points. The other catalyst was an opportunistic offense that outscored the Dukes 26-0 on fastbreaks.
“We want to be fast, and we want to play fast. I reminded them that we were No. 1 in the country in scoring on fastbreaks,” Richardson said, referring to a ranking as the top team in transition according to Synergy Sports last month. “So we wanted to live up to that, and if we continue to do that, we can catch some teams wagging their tongues a bit.”
Initially, the Tigers appeared to be stuck in neutral as James Madison scored 12 of the game’s first 15 points and owned a 16-5 advantage before Richardson hastily called a timeout with 3:56 left in the first quarter. Richardson said she implored the players to revert to their roots, and sophomore point guard Aleah Nelson took the urging to heart.
“She was telling me, ‘Don’t walk the ball up the court. That’s not how we play. That’s what kind of starts us off,’” said Nelson, a Baltimore resident and McDonogh graduate who compiled 13 points and six assists. “And I remember one of my teammates, [junior shooting guard] Shavonne Smith [who chipped in 10 points and six rebounds], was saying, ‘Look, I’m running the floor. Look for me.’ That’s what we did, and that’s how we got that point spread up, just pushing the ball. That’s what we’re known for.”
Towson closed out the quarter with nine straight points and opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run to assume a 24-18 lead with 6:26 remaining that it did not surrender. Dukes coach Sean O’Regan said he was disappointed in the Tigers’ overwhelming fastbreak margin because the coaches and players had discussed slowing the pace and forcing Towson to play a half-court game.
“I’m a little bit more concerned with our zero in that category,” he added. “We didn’t get out. They are putting shots up at a very high pace, and it was almost like we were too careful on the offensive end. I thought Towson did their thing today, and that’s the blueprint on how you beat us.”
The Tigers enjoyed a 19-point lead at 69-50 with 7:27 left in the fourth quarter, but James Madison responded with a full-court press that forced Towson into turning the ball over. A 3-pointer by junior point guard Madison Green narrowed the deficit to 80-74 with 53.4 seconds remaining, but the Tigers sandwiched three free throws around a turnover by Green to cement the victory.
Jeter said the players were driven to avoid a repeat of their 89-85 loss to the Dukes on Jan. 3 in which they outscored Towson 19-11 in the final six minutes.
“We knew we couldn’t let up,” she said. “We did the same thing last time because we were up the whole game. … We had a lot of heart today. We kept our foot on their necks the whole game.”
That first meeting was also the last game before Richardson tested positive for the coronavirus and did not return to the program until Jan. 27.
“To be honest with you, it had a little bit of oomph with me,” she said of Wednesday’s rematch. “I just remember going to Harrisonburg and coming back with COVID and barely making it out. So I knew we couldn’t have the same kind of game that we had when we were down there.”
In addition to compiling four rebounds and three assists, Jeter scored 30 or more points for the fourth time this season. She revealed that she was inspired by a social media post from James Madison.
“It was definitely fun,” she said of her performance. “I kind of took it personal when I woke up this morning and saw them posting something about sweeping us.”
Richardson said she was surprised to see Jeter’s point total.
“I thought she missed a couple early on, and I was wondering what kind of day she was going to have,” she said. “Obviously, she is really good. She can knock down shots and turned it around for us. Our first quarter was pretty slow, and she came into the second quarter and started to score, which gave us a little more energy to play.”
The Dukes (10-7, 6-4) were paced by sophomore guard Kiki Jefferson’s 29 points and 10 rebounds and freshman guard Jamia Hazell’s 16 points. But sophomore forward Rayne Tucker, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in that first meeting against Towson, had twice as many personal fouls (four) as points (two on 1-for-6 shooting).
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