NORFOLK, Va. - It may not be fair to the other women's basketball teams at the MEAC Tournament if North Carolina A&T comes on the court with the MEAC Rookie of the Year Eboni Ross in the post and perimeter shooters to support her.
Ross finished with 18 points and eight rebounds on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 shooting from the free throw line to lead the Aggies to a 78-47 win over Norfolk State in the quarterfinal round of the MEAC Tournament at the Norfolk Scope Arena.
The Aggies (22-8) will play in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m., on Friday against Howard. It will be the Aggies first trip to the MEAC semis since 2009, the same year the Aggies won the program's second MEAC Tournament title.
As if Ross' performance wasn't enough, the Aggies were also 12-for-24 from 3-point range and shot 49 percent for the game. Tracy King added 13 points and three assists, and third-team All-MEAC performer Amber Calvin had 12 points and three assists.
"It's good to knock down outside shots," said King. "It looks good, it feels good and it opens up our offense. It gives us more of an inside presence because if people are going to be concerned about the three, we're going to be able to get the ball in the post. Our offense becomes so much better when we are able to hit shots from a variety of places on the floor."
Hitting shots is nothing new for the Aggies. Thanks in part to the 6-foot-3 Ross; A&T leads the conference in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. What will make the tournament interesting for the Aggies is that the top four seeds in the tournament - Hampton, A&T, Howard and S.C. State - are also the top four teams in field goal percentage defense.
Six days after holding the Spartans to 32 percent shooting at Norfolk State's Echols Hall, the Aggies held the Spartans to 34 percent shooting in a facility only three miles from their campus.
"It was a real big advantage," said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson about the advantage of playing Norfolk State twice in six days. "My assistant coaches do a real good job with scouting as far as understanding teams, personnel and plays our opponents are going to run. So yes, they were very familiar to us. We felt good about it once we found out who we were playing."
A&T didn't know who its opponent would be until Tuesday night when the 10th-seeded Spartans (7-22) defeated No. 7 Florida A&M behind the inside play of Batavia Owens, who had 16 points and nine rebounds, and the perimeter play of Ebony Brown, who finished with 23 points on 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. On Wednesday, Barnes finished with nine points and four boards, while Brown went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and had six points.
The Aggies offense wasn't as anemic. The Aggies hit three 3-pointers in the first 2 ½ minutes of the game. When King intercepted a Barnes pass and scored on a layup, the Aggies had a 13-0 lead before the first three minutes of the game had been played. The Spartans got the lead under double figures only twice in the game. The second time came on a Kashay Barnes jumper that put the Spartans down 16-8 with 13:08 remaining in the first half. Ross hit a layup and a backup center Jasmine Parker followed with a bank shot to put the Aggies ahead by double figures for good.
A&T led 42-17 at the half.
"I thought from our standpoint, we did a good job of sustaining our energy in getting off to a good start. It's something we try to do every game," said Robinson. "Obviously, this game I thought our fast start was the difference in the game. It was 36-30 in the second half, so holding them to 17 in the first half was big."
First-team all-conference performer JaQuayla Berry and Calvin had three 3-pointers apiece to lead the Aggies outside game. Berry was 3-for-4 and Calvin was 3-for-6.