DURHAM - Make N.C. Central victim No. 1 and 8.
For the eighth time this season, the North Carolina A&T women's basketball team held an opponent to under 50 points. The Aggies first stingy conquest came in December with a win over N.C. Central in Greensboro. Their latest effort came on Saturday afternoon with a 60-33 win over N.C. Central at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.
"That gives us eight games this year where we are buying in and continuing to improve," said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson upon hearing the news about his team's defensive efforts this season.
After holding the Eagles to 20 percent shooting in a 67-27 win in Corbett nearly three months ago, the Aggies (18-8, 10-3) held the Eagles to 23 percent shooting on Saturday. The catalyst once again for the Aggies 'D' was 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Eboni Ross. Ross recorded her first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds on 8-for-11 shooting from the field. She also added three blocks and three steals to her totals, and she changed a number of shots.
Ross scored the Aggies final eight points of the first half to help the Aggies take a 28-13 lead into the locker room. Her five MEAC Rookie of the Week honors this season is tops in the conference, and she is also the second-leading shot blocker in the league.
She stepped into the Aggies starting lineup at the start of 2013 when senior center Nikia Gorham sustained a knee injury against George Washington on Jan. 6. In the 14 games since entering the Aggies starting lineup, Ross has blocked 29 shots, and teams are shooting just 36.5 percent against A&T. Robinson gave credit for her offensive improvement to post players' coach Laphelia Doss, while stressing the importance of what she's meant defensively.
"Eboni is probably one of our unsung heroes or MVPs," said Robinson. "She has done a lot for us offensively and defensively. But she is a solid inside presence because she is a heckuva shot blocker. She makes people think before they try to dribble-drive and penetrate."
The Eagles (1-25, 1-12) did have some offensive power early. A layup by Aja Hoyle gave the Eagles their only lead of the game at 9-8 with 11:34 remaining. Hoyle's jumper brought the capacity Eagles crowd to its feet, but there wasn't much to cheer about from there. A&T answered as Amber Calvin went baseline and delivered a bounce pass to Ross who was settled underneath the basket. Ross' basket gave A&T the lead for good. Over the next minute, Adriana Nazario hit consecutive threes to push the lead to 16-9 with 9:16 remaining in the first half.
Over the next 16 minutes of game action, the Eagles converted on just three field goals. By the time Hoyle hit a jump shot four minutes into the second half, the Aggies had built their lead to 34-15. Then they added to it as JaQuayla Berry scored four points during a 7-1 run to put the Aggies ahead 41-16 with 13:47 remaining in the game.
"Defense is going to be the difference on whether we win a championship," said Robinson. "If you look at the top teams in the league who are the most successful, they're also the teams that hold their opponents to the least amount of points. I stress that to our ladies every day in practice."
The Eagles were led by Tisha Dixon's 14 points and 12 rebounds. Berry added 13 points and eight rebounds for an Aggies team that still has an outside shot to grab at least a share of the MEAC regular-season title.
They will return to action on Saturday, March 2, when they try to avenge an earlier loss to S.C. State. The game starts at 2 p.m., and it will be Senior Day for Berry and Gorham.