Playing On First Day Has Its Perks

Josh Walfish, Publisher
Dukes of JMU

HARRISONBURG — Adell Harris doesn’t know what it’s like to be a top-two seed in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

The fifth-year UNC-Wilmington coach has played in the first round of the conference tournament in four of her five years at the helm of the Seahawks. So, she doesn’t know how big of an advantage it is to play in the opening round and erase the first-day jitters.

But she has recognized a pattern from the other bench in the quarterfinals.

“I do know from my experiences that the top seeds have struggled to get a rhythm and flow [early] in that second day of the tournament,” Harris said after her seventh-seeded Seahawks defeated No. 10 Charleston 49-44 in the first round of the 2017 CAA Tournament at the Convocation Center on Wednesday.

It is a phenomenon that was very prevalent in last week’s men’s tournament, with the winners from the first day pushing the top seeds in the first half of the quarterfinal games before ultimately falling short. Hofstra forward Ashunae Durant said she thinks there is an advantage to playing in the first game and knocking off some rust early.

“Playing today, we got our legs moving, so it definitely helped playing a first-round game,” Durant said after the Pride’s 77-66 win over Towson in the first round. “It might seem like we will be tired, but I feel like we are just where we want to be.”

James Madison’s first-year coach Sean O’Regan is very familiar with the first-round bye. The Dukes have not played on the first day of the CAA Tournament since 2004, four years before O’Regan made his debut on the JMU sidelines as an assistant.

However, O’Regan was a bottom seed during his seasons as an assistant coach at Evansville and is familiar with the pressure-free environment of a quarterfinals day as a lower seed.

“I’ve been a part of both sides of that,” O’Regan said. “You play a game, you’re feeling good because you just won and you come out to play a one or two seed and you have nothing to lose and you let it fly. It’s a very natural thing.”

Hofstra senior point guard Krystal Luciano said she’s excited to be the underdog today against Elon, the regular-season champion and top seed. She said she thinks it will give her team an added boost come tipoff at noon.

“It’s not bad at all to be the underdog,” Luciano said. “People are not expecting so much from you. People are just expecting the same thing that you did in the regular season, so it’s a really good position to be in.”

Watch Out For The Ref

Among the lighter moments of the day was Sydni Epps’ rolled ankle in the third quarter of Hofstra’s win over Towson.

The Pride’s senior guard hit a 3-pointer to put her team up by 16 points, but in the process of celebrating her shot, she stepped on a referee’s foot and dropped to the floor in pain. Epps laughed it off with the official as the ref helped Epps off the ground and supported her while she walked off the injury.

Epps would be subbed out a few moments later and had her ankle wrapped in ice at the end of the bench and did not return to the game. However, Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky said she fully expects the senior to play today against Elon.

Interesting Stat

23.6 — College of Charleston and UNC-Wilmington combined to shoot 23.6 percent (13-of-55) in the second half and only scored 38 points in the final 20 minutes. The Seahawks went almost nine minutes without a bucket during a span that bridged the third and fourth quarters, but the Cougars only scored six points in the interim.

Top Performers

Krystal Luciano stole the show for Hofstra on Wednesday with one of the more complete performances in the history of the CAA Tournament. The senior point guard finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, falling just short of the first triple-double in the tournament’s history.

Luciano was aggressive from the outset, and that attacking mindset helped set the tone early for the Pride. She was also very consistent in the game to help Hofstra answer a third-quarter push from Towson with a 17-3 run that extended the Pride’s lead to a game-high 22 points.

“She set that tone that you can body me up or try to be physical, but I can still play through this,” Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky said.

Raven Bankston, in her final collegiate game, poured in 30 points for the fourth time this season to lead all scorers in Towson’s loss to Hofstra. She did it all for the Tigers on a day when only four players scored for the No. 8 seed, adding five steals and a team-high three assists in the defeat.

Today’s Schedule

Top-seeded Elon kicks off the quadruple-header with a noon tipoff against No. 9 Hofstra. The Phoenix swept the regular-season series with a pair of 11-point wins this season.

Scheduled for 2:30 p.m., No. 4 William & Mary will face off against No. 5 Delaware in the second quarterfinal matchup of the day. The Tribe and Blue Hens split their two meetings this season with the road team winning on both occasions.

James Madison makes its debut in this year’s tournament at 5 p.m. against No. 7 UNC-Wilmington. The second-seeded Dukes swept the season series from the Seahawks, including a 73-51 win over the Seahawks in the conference opener at the Convocation Center.

The night ends with No. 3 Drexel facing No. 6 Northeastern at 7:30 p.m. The Dragons won both meetings with the Huskies by at least 20 points, but they lost their last three regular-season games entering the tournament.

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