HAMPTON, Va. – It was everything a game featuring the top two teams should be. An intense-filled, grueling defensive matchup which tested both teams for 40 minutes of jaw-dropping, chest-clinching basketball, that came down to the final seconds was played on Thursday evening at the HU Convocation Center. Hampton notched its 46th consecutive MEAC win as the North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team fell 54-51.
“It was exciting playing a high-level game like this,” head coach Tarrell Robinson said about his first time facing Hampton in his head coaching tenure. “I told my ladies in the first half that this is what it’s about…the best playing against the best.”
The Aggies will go into the MEAC tournament at the Norfolk Scope as the No. 2 seed for the second straight season. A&T will play at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday against the winner of the 7/10 game between Bethune-Cookman and S.C. State. The Wildcats and Bulldogs will play Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.
A&T's loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for A&T (23-5, 13-3) but its defense held Hampton (25-4, 16-0) to just a 27.9 percent shooting performance from the field. Additionally, the Aggies held the Pirates to only five field goals in the second half.
“At this point in the season, we’ve consistently been one of the top defensive teams in the nation,” Robinson said about A&T who has held its opponents to scoring just 54.8 points a game. “I think it goes back to our focus in practice and the things we pride ourselves on. Tonight we did a good job defensively I just wish we could have took care of the ball more and made some layups.”
It was Ariel Bursey’s layup off a HU turnover that gave the Aggies their first lead in the second half, 49-48 with 2:29 remaining. A pair of free throws from Tracy King put A&T up 51-48 moments later but Malia Tate-DeFreitas hit a jumper to cut its edge to 51-50 at the 1:57 mark. DeFritas found her way to the free throw line with 1:14 left and knocked down both shots, as Hampton regained the lead, 52-51.
A&T tried to respond but missed opportunities to score in the final minute as the Pirates took the 54-51 lead with two free throws with 11 seconds left.
After trailing 32-26 at halftime, the Aggies went on an 8-3 run early in the second half, fueled by six straight baskets from Aprill McRae and a jumper from Bursey, to slice Hampton’s lead to 35-34 with 16:56 remaining. The Pirates countered with a 3-pointer by Tate-DeFreitas but both teams went cold on offense as Hampton didn’t hit its next field goal until the 9:09 mark, which pushed its edge 44-40.
Debbie Smith got the Aggies within three with a jumper with 4:42 left and McRae knocked down both free throws to cut HU’s lead to 48-47 with 3:34 remaining.
In the first half, A&T took its first lead, 10-9 with back-to-back 3-pointers from Bursey and King at the 16:02 mark. A layup from Debbie Smith extended the Aggies lead to 16-13 but Hampton utilized a 9-0 run to take the 24-16 advantage with under five minutes left. A 3-pointer from Bursey cut Hampton’s edge to 36-30 with 26 seconds left but a basket from the Pirates allowed them to take the 32-26 lead into halftime.
Bursey matched her career-high with 18 points on Thursday, with 12 coming in the first half. McRae added 17 points and a pair of blocks as King recorded 10 points and led A&T in rebounds with nine.
Alyssa Bennett led Hampton with 18 points, followed by Tate-DeFreitas with 15. Brielle Ward notched a game-high 15 rebounds for the Pirates.