STILLWATER, Okla., March 31, 2012 -- James Madison battled to the end but came up a little short in a 75-68 loss at Oklahoma State in the Women's National Invitational Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Dukes, who trailed by 17 points with under 13 minutes to play, cut the
margin to four with 28 seconds left but could not close the gap any further.
JMU ended its season with a 29-8 record, while Oklahoma State finished with a 22-12 record.
The Cowgirls outscored JMU 38-20 in the paint, led by a game-high 25 points by junior forward Toni Young, who scored many of her points on layups. OSU shot 48.3 percent (29-60) from the field, while JMU hit only 35.4 percent (23-65).
JMU was led by junior guard Tarik Hislop (Silver Spring, Md./Paint Branch) with team-highs of 16 points and four assists. Senior forward Kiara Francisco (Lakeland, Fla./Winter Haven) came off the bench for 14 points, and junior forward Nikki Newman (Harrisonburg, Va./Turner Ashby) had 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Redshirt senior forward Lauren Whitehurst (Chesapeake, Va./Indian River) added 10 points.
OSU had three other players score in double figures, with sophomore guard Tiffany Bias scoring 17 and handing out a game-high 11 assists. Freshman forward Liz Donohoe added 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and junior forward Lindsey Keller scored 10.
Hislop (92 points, 16 assists, 9 steals in six tournament games) and sophomore guard Kirby Burkholder (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby) (98 points, 42 rebounds, 15 assists, 9 steals) represented JMU on the WNIT All-Tournament Team.
The Dukes led 9-4 early but the Cowgirls used a 15-2 scoring run to push ahead to a 23-13 lead with 7:39 left in the opening half.
In the second half OSU had a run of eight unanswered points that gave the Cowgirls their biggest lead of the day, 55-38, with 12:34 remaining.
Francisco sparked a JMU comeback in which the Dukes outscored OSU 30-17 to get within four, 72-68, with 28 seconds to go. However, forced to foul, JMU sent OSU to the foul line, where Blas hit three of four free throws in the final 24 seconds to put away the game.
Francisco scored 14 of JMU's 30 points during the run, and Hislop scored eight and Burkholder six. It was a 3-pointer by Burkholder that cut the OSU lead to four.
Quotes from James Madison Head Coach Kenny Brooks
"I thought it was a hard-fought game. I thought both teams played hard. I thought (OSU) played better than we did for longer stretches, therefore, when you come to a venue like this and a situation a like this, you can't have lulls. We had some lulls, and I thought that was the big difference, but give them credit. (Toni) Young is probably the best center we've played against all year. She was tremendous inside and athletic, and (Tiffany) Bias was probably the best point guard we've played against all year. Those two I thought were the biggest factors, and we just couldn't contain them when we needed to. That group, they've done a very special thing for this program at Oklahoma State and we tip our hat to them. We just didn't have our best game."
On the last play of the first half
"(It was) a big momentum play. We were down seven, we ran a play and got the shot we wanted, it was just probably two seconds earlier than we wanted it. Everything else had to happen: she missed it in a way that they got the rebound pretty quickly and in rhythm, came down and scored the layup with their athleticism. Instead of being down possibly four at that point, we went into the locker room down nine. In the first minute and a half of the second half, they went on a tear, which really built a big hole for us. We were forced at that point to dig ourselves out, and we did to a certain degree, we just didn't have enough energy down the stretch. It was good. We'll learn from this whole situation, but we just didn't play well enough to win the basketball game."
On if he felt like the deck was stacked against his team
"In more ways than one. Anytime you come into a venue like this, there's a lot of emotion. We understood that coming into the game. We understood the big story and what these kids would be playing for. We knew it was going to be tough. I felt like there were a few shots that normally fall for us, a few plays that we normally make and it just didn't happen for us. For whatever reason it didn't, but they made those plays and we give them credit for it."