HARRISONBURG, Va., March 28, 2012 -- James Madison beat Syracuse 74-71 in the National Women's Invitation Tournament semifinals Wednesday evening at the JMU Convocation Center.
JMU advances to the WNIT championship game at Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 31. The Cowgirls beat San Diego 73-57 in the other semifinal Wednesday.
JMU, which won its school-record 29th game, improved to 29-7. Syracuse ended its season with a 22-15 record.
In a game that had 10 lead changes and 10 ties, the Orange held their largest lead of the night, 47-40, with 16:02 to play. A 13-5 Syracuse run, buoyed by three 3-pointers, gave the Orange the seven-point advantage.
JMU climbed back into the game by outscoring Syracuse 13-4 in a span of 6:19 to take the lead for good at 53-51 on two free throws by redshirt junior guard Jasmine Gill (Greensboro, N.C./Page) with 9:38 remaining. The Orange were 2-for-12 from the field during the Dukes' go-ahead run.
With JMU holding a 61-59 lead with under six minutes to play, junior forward Nikki Newman (Harrisonburg, Va./Turner Ashby) scored on a layup to start a 7-3 Dukes' run. Newman hit a 3-pointer at 3:36 to cap the run and give her team a 70-62 advantage, the Dukes' biggest lead of the night.
Syracuse scored six unanswered points, the first three by senior forward Iasia Hemingway (Newark, N.J./Malcolm X Shabazz) on a layup at 2:58 and a free throw at 2:23. Junior guard Elashier Hall (Washington, D.C./Eleanor Roosevelt) made a defensive play to give her team possession and then scored on a three-point play to get the Orange within two, 70-68, with 1:27 to play.
But Newman fed redshirt senior forward Lauren Whitehurst (Chesapeake, Va./Indian River) a pass for layup with 1:13 left for a 72-68 lead, then blocked a shot by junior center Kayla Alexander (Milton Ontario/Milton District) with 57 seconds left. Syracuse missed a 3-pointer, got the rebound but lost the ball out of bounds on the baseline, giving the Dukes possession with 50 seconds left.
Junior guard Tarik Hislop (Silver Spring, Md./Paint Branch) hit two of four foul shots in the final 49 seconds to offset Syracuse's only points, a three-point play by Alexander, for the final 74-71 margin.
Syracuse's Alexander led all players with 29 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots. Hall finished with 18 points, and Hemingway scored 16 and had nine rebounds and five assists.
Four Dukes scored in double figures, led by sophomore guard Kirby Burkholder (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby) with 18; she also had seven rebounds. Hislop scored 14, nine of which came at the foul line where she was 9-for-12. Whitehurst had 12 points, three blocked shots and seven rebounds Newman had her fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds; she also had a team-high four assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
"They were as advertised," said JMU head coach Kenny Brooks. "Kayla Alexander just imposed her will, camped out inside. When you have someone that big it's hard to defend it.
"We won because we made more plays. During the time when we got down (by seven), I thought Kirby (Burkholder) stepped up and was huge. Nikki Newman stepped up and had a couple of plays that were tremendous. We battled all night. Nobody backed down, and that's the reason we won."