LYNCHBURG, Va.-The North Carolina A&T women's basketball team picked up a key win against Liberty on Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center, defeating the defending Big South champions 60-56.
"I'm happy with the win. Liberty made it to the NCAA Tournament. That's a big step for us to beat a team that competed in the NCAAs last year and is picked to be there this year," said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson.
The Aggies (5-3) snapped the Flames' five-game winning streak, and held Liberty (7-4) to more than 10 points under their season scoring average. The Aggie defense induced Liberty to shoot a season-low 32 percent from the floor, including 1-for-12 from beyond the arc, after collecting 11 3-pointers in their previous game.
"That's defense," Robinson said. "We held them to 56 points, and a lot of that goes to the effort that we had. Everybody did their part tonight."
In the second half, Emily Frazier collected a 3-point play to help the Flames ride a 7-0 run to pull within four at 37-33 with 12:57 left in the game. Four minutes later, Amber Calvin made a steal on an inbound pass, and passed it behind her back to Nazario, who made the layup to give A&T a 48-39 lead with 8:14 left. The Flames closed to within four before Berry scored the next five points to give the Aggies an eight-point lead at 53-44. But Liberty didn't give up. The Flames went on an 8-0 run to pull within one with 2:41 remaining. Nazario then nailed a 3-pointer to give the Aggies more of a cushion at 56-52.
"Adriana Nazario-my hat goes off to her. She responded and made some big plays, and finished the game for us, hit that big three late in the game," said Robinson.
The game wasn't over yet, however. Preseason All-Big South player Devon Brown picked up the steal underneath the Aggie basket, and drove down to score. She was fouled by Nazario and made both free throws to make it a 58-56 game with 18 seconds remaining.
After senior center Nikia Gorham missed a free throw with 16 seconds left, the Flames got the rebound, but seconds later the Aggies defense forced Liberty's Sadalia Ellis into a turnover with 3.5 seconds remaining. Calvin hit two free throws to clinch the win. A&T picked up the win after a two-week layoff. The Aggies used the time to polish their defensive skills during the break for finals, and their hard work paid off.
"We were able to make some adjustments with some things during exams. We added a couple of more presses, and obviously we ran zone a lot today, and we really worked on that-just the fundamentals of defense," Robinson said. "I told them that if we can get better defensively and then our offense catches up, we'll be pretty good."
The Aggies also had a strong offensive performance against Liberty, as a season-high four players scored in double figures. Calvin, who went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first half, ended the game with a team-best 21 points.
"Amber Calvin again, she got it started early, knocking down shots and giving us that energy," Robinson said.
The Flames tied the score at 19 in the first half before Calvin went off, collecting four consecutive 3-pointers in the last three and a half minutes of the first half to put the Aggies ahead 33-23 at the break.
While Robinson was impressed with Calvin's first half fireworks, he was also highly proud of his other player's performance in the second half, as they staved off late runs by the Flames.
"This is definitely a team effort. We're just trying to get better. I told them to enjoy it right now, but tomorrow we've got to focus on UNC Charlotte," Robinson said.
The Aggies will host the Charlotte 49ers on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 6 p.m., before welcoming William & Mary to Corbett Sports Center on Friday, Dec. 21 at noon.