EAST GREENSBORO (February 11, 2019) – North Carolina A&T was about to lose full grip of a double-digit lead they held going into the second half. In fact, by the end of the third quarter, Maryland Eastern Shore even took the lead.
Through it all, N.C. A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson did not call timeout. Instead, he chose to allow his veterans to play through their rough patch. The gamble paid off. The Aggies regained their composure and went on to defeat the Hawks 70-58 Monday night in women’s basketball play at Corbett Sports Center.
The win tied N.C. A&T (13-10, 10-0 MEAC) with the Hawks (14-11, 10-2 MEAC) in the win column while giving the Aggies a two-game advantage in the loss column of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings. N.C. A&T is trying to capture its third regular-season title in four years. They have won 18 straight over MEAC competition and 28 of 29 over conference opponents including in the conference tournament.
“I trusted the five that were out there because they all played last year,” said Robinson about the MDES run. “I knew they would respond and I am proud of them for doing so.”
It was a career night for one of Robinson’s experienced players in junior Le’on Hill. She secured career highs in points (14) and blocked shots (4) while securing her first career double-double. Fellow junior Cinia McCray led the Aggies with 24 points on 11-for-11 shooting from the free throw line.
Hill led the Aggies attack on the glass as they outrebounded the Hawks 32-13 in the first half and led 36-22 at halftime.
But MDES, who is a good outside shooting team, started to live up to their reputation in the third quarter. They hit three 3-pointers within the first five minutes of the second half. The third three cut the Aggies lead to 38-31. Two Keyera Eaton free throws got the lead down to five and when Ciani Byrom hit another MDES 3-pointer, the Aggies lead had dwindled to 40-37 with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter.
The Aggies five on the floor that Robinson trusted was juniors Shantell Bostick, Alexus Lessears, Hill, C’Coriea Foy and McCray. All of those players were a part of at least one MEAC championship title run. Yet a short jumper in the paint by Taylor Clayborne and a defensive rebound Byrom that turned into her taking that rebound and driving to the basket for a layup put the Hawks ahead 41-40.
The trustworthy five would regroup. Foy dumped a pass into the post from the high post to Hill for a layup to help the Aggies regain the lead. Clayborne gave the Hawks the lead back before McCray took a pass from Foy and set her feet to net a three to give the Aggies a 45-43. Lessears added a free throw as the Aggies went into the fourth quarter with a three-point advantage.
“They’re a good team and they’re hungry. That’s why they’re in the position they’re in,” said Robinson about MDES. “They’ve made big plays, hit big shots and made a lot of threes. We knew what they were capable of coming in.”
N.C. A&T opened the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run that included a 3-pointer from the corner by Bostick as the Aggies took a 57-45 lead. Two straight 3-pointers from Ra’Jean Martin cut the lead down to six before McCray started to dominate the game from the free throw line. McCray went 8-for-8 from the foul line over the final three minutes of the game. As a team, the Aggies were 13-for-14 from the free throw line to put away the Hawks. Defensively, MDES made just two field goals over the final three minutes. McCray’s two free throws with 41 seconds remaining seemed to put the game away as she gave the Aggies a 66-55 lead.
“Cinia is really coming into her own. She’s a playmaker,” said Robinson. “She’s a clutch shooter. She was like that as a freshman. She just didn’t get the opportunity to play a lot. Now, we’re getting to see her talent and her ability.”
MDES was led by Byrom’s 21 points. The Aggies will take their experience and coach’s trust on the road this week when they travel to Washington, D.C., to face Howard on Saturday at 2 p.m.