NORFOLK, Va. - The North Carolina A&T women's basketball team closed out the regular-season with a 62-47 win over Norfolk State at Echols Hall on Thursday night. The Aggies' strong end to the regular season is all predicated on who head coach Tarrell Robinson became acquainted with over the past four months.
"Our first two games, you wouldn't have thought we would be 21-8," said Robinson after the win. "It took the players time to understand me, and it took me time to understand them."
When Robinson returned to A&T to become the head man, however, it didn't appear introductions were needed. Robinson played four varsity men's basketball seasons at A&T in the late 90's to early 2000's. He was also the associate head coach for the women's program for four seasons, and three players on the current roster, he recruited.
But after an 0-2 start in his first season, Robinson quickly discovered introductions were needed. He had to understand that his players needed to see results, and the players needed to understand that his wrath wasn't coming every time something went wrong during a game. He wanted his team to know, he believed in them.
The Aggies picked up an impressive road win over Liberty on December 15 and then had impressive non-conference wins over Elon, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary and George Washington. After a disappointing loss at Bethune-Cookman, the Aggies blew out Florida A&M, had a tough 44-42 loss to Howard and then ran off six straight as the buy-in began.
"I learned with this group that if you say it is going to work out, it needs to work out," said Robinson. "They're a tough group. You've got to be on it. If you're on it, they will give you the respect you deserve. You definitely have to earn it."
In addition to earning his team's respect, Robinson helped the Aggies earn the No. 2 seed in next week's MEAC Basketball Championship Tournament with a 13-3 mark in the conference. The Aggies will play 2:30 p.m., Wednesday at the Norfolk Scope against the winner of No. 7 Florida A&M and No. 10 Norfolk State.
The Aggies locked up the second seed with another strong defensive performance on Thursday. The Spartans shot just 32 percent from the floor despite taking most of their shots from inside of 15 feet. A&T freshman center Eboni Ross made those shots a little harder with her presence. She finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. The Aggies had eight blocks for the game.
A&T took over the game at the nine-minute mark of the first half. A Recca Trice jumper as the shot clock expired put the Spartans to within three at 13-10. The Spartans converted just one more field goal to end the half. In the meantime, an Adriana Nazario 3-pointer gave the Aggies a 21-11 lead with 6:12 to play. The Aggies ended the half with a Ross interception that resulted in Ariel Bursey delivering her a bounce pass on the break. Ross finished with a layup, giving A&T a 29-16 halftime lead.
The lead would balloon to as many as 26, 60-34, on a Ross layup with 4:43 to play. The Aggies balanced attack was led by JaQuayla Berry's 12 points and six rebounds. Two other Aggies scored in double figures, including Tracy King with 11 and Bursey with 10.
"I'm glad we won," said Robinson. "I'm glad we locked down the second seed in the tournament. It's something we've talked about the past two weeks. We just wanted to be in the right situation to try and win MEAC championship."
NSU (6-21, 4-12) was led by Batavia Owens' 12 points and 14 rebounds.