Box Score | Green's Photos | Highlights | Balcomb | Dahlman and Jenkins
By David Dawson
NASHVILLE -- The Vanderbilt women's basketball team is suddenly feeling much better. Physically and emotionally.
After suffering a pair of disappointing defeats and enduring a series of injuries before Christmas, the Commodores produced a morale-boosting victory on Monday night, using some late-game heroics from Jasmine Jenkins to down RV/No. 24 James Madison, 66-62, at Memorial Gym.
The Dukes (9-2) came into the night on a five-game winning streak, but it was the Commodores (8-4) -- and Jenkins in particular -- who made the big plays in the final minute.
Jenkins made a contested jumper with 51 seconds left -- her first basket of the night -- to give Vanderbilt a 64-62 lead, then pulled down a defensive rebound after JMU's Ashley Perez missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining. Jenkins hit the game-clinching free throw with eight seconds left as the Commodores, who had a mostly-healthy roster for the first time in weeks, held on for the win.
Jenkins finished with only three points, but she was among the biggest heroes of the night. Her jumper in the final minute was perhaps the most pivotal play in a contest that featured 15 lead changes and 12 ties.
"I saw that I had a slower post player defending me, and I am pretty confident with my jump shot, even though I am (normally) a facilitator," said Jenkins. "I just took advantage of the opportunity I had, and my teammates trusted me to take it."
Perez finished with a game-high 21 points for JMU.
Rachel Bell scored 14 points to lead Vanderbilt. Rebekah Dahlman added 12 points and Heather Bowe had 10 for the Commodores, who were bolstered by the return of post players Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau and Marqu'es Webb after they had both been sidelined for much of the month.
Caron-Goudreau, who had missed the past three games after sustaining a concussion in practice, finished with four points and a team-high nine rebounds in 31 minutes of action. Webb played just eight minutes, but had five points and four rebounds in her first game since Nov. 30.
Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said "getting some of our players back and having fresher legs" was a key to the win. "Just knowing that, with the depth that we had, we could finish the game," was a huge confidence boost, she said.
The contest didn't feature much offensive flow. Vanderbilt shot just 37 percent from the floor and James Madison was even worse, shooting 32 percent. The Dukes were 7-of-30 from 3-point range (23 percent).
JMU's Precious Hall, who came into the night ranked No. 4 in the country in scoring, finished with 13 points -- 11 below her average. She was limited to three points in the second half and was only 5-of-24 from the floor overall.
The victory gives Vanderbilt (8-4) a gust of momentum as the Commodores head into SEC play later this week, visiting No. 5-ranked Texas A&M on Friday night, followed by a home game against No. 8-ranked Tennessee next Monday.
"I can't really even tell you how badly we needed this game tonight," said Balcomb.
The victory marked the second year in a row that Vanderbilt has won a thriller against JMU. Last season, the Commodores downed the Dukes, 89-85, in overtime to give James Madison its only home loss of the season.
It appeared Monday's game might be destined for overtime, too, as the teams were tied at 62-62 with one minute remaining. Then Jenkins delivered her clutch basket to give the Commodores the lead for good.
"That's not her job as a point guard -- but that is her shot," said Balcomb. "That's (the shot) she works on, and that's the shot she makes in practice."
The Dukes out-rebounded the Commodores, 48-43, marking just the second time this season that an opponent has accomplished that feat against Vanderbilt.
The Commodores got off to an extremely cold start, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from the floor in the opening 9½ of the first half. But JMU also struggled to score, and the Dukes owned only an 11-9 lead at the midway mark of the first half. At that point, the teams were a combined 4-of-26 (15 percent) from the floor.
Later in the half, the teams went more than five minutes without a whistle (beginning at the 8:02 mark). By the time the under-8 minute timeout finally came -- with 3:25 left in the half -- the players were more than ready for a break in the action. JMU eventually carried a 30-28 lead to the locker room.
JMU maintained a narrow lead for much of the second half, and led 54-50 after a basket by Perez with 7:57 to go. But Bell hit a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to one with 7:48 to go, and Caron-Goudreau followed with a layup to put Vanderbilt on top. Bell then capped an 8-0 run with another 3-pointer to give Vanderbilt a four-point cushion.
From there, it was one big momentum swing after the next, leading up to Jenkins' go-ahead jumper.