NORFOLK, Va. - Howard seniors Cheyenne Curley-Payne and Saadia Doyle have been nuisances to the North Carolina A&T women's basketball program for four years.
They continued to vex the Aggies on Friday afternoon as Doyle scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Curley-Payne added nine assists to lead the Bison to a 55-42 MEAC Tournament semifinal win over the Aggies at The Norfolk Scope Arena.
The Bison (20-10) will advance to face Hampton in the championship game scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday. A Hampton win will give the Aggies an invite to the WNIT as the MEAC's regular-season runner-up.
There will be no mourning among Aggie fans about the duos' eligibility ending. In eight games played against the Bison since Doyle and Curley-Payne arrived in Washington, D.C., the Aggies are 3-5 versus Howard, including two tournament losses. Doyle has averaged 23.5 points and 10.9 rebounds in those games, while Curley-Payne has averaged 9.4 points and 5.0 assists.
On Friday, the Aggies (22-9) took a 30-27 lead with 13:35 remaining on an Eboni Ross layup. Curley-Payne then drove the lane and found an open Kara Smith for a 3-pointer to tie the game. It would be an unfortunate reoccurrence for A&T. Seconds after dishing to Smith, Curley-Payne turned an Aggies turnover into a transition opportunity that resulted in a Adelle Walton 3-pointer and a 33-30 Howard lead with 12 ½ minutes remaining.
A&T was never able to grab the lead again. After a Ross layup made it a one-point game, the Bison went on a 7-1 run to take a 40-33 lead with 7:39 to play. A Tracy King 3-pointer cut the lead to four, but soon after Doyle began to impose her will. Doyle scored nine points and had two rebounds during a 12-0 Bison run that gave Howard a 52-36 lead.
"She is relentless," said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson about Doyle. "She plays with a lot of passion. She doesn't always make her first shot, but she does a good job of following her shot. You have to meet her intensity and even try to exceed it. She is a hard worker. Her career numbers speak for themselves."
Doyle, who has 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, had four of her 10 rebounds come on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Curley-Payne recorded eight of her nine assists in the final 13 minutes of the contest.
"We gave up some big threes in transition," said Robinson. "Cheyenne Curley-Payne is a heckuva point guard. She did a good job of finding people, and we didn't do a good job of matching up with people after turnovers and missed shots in transition. That opened up the game for them."
Howard scored 25 points off of 18 A&T turnovers. Berry ended her career against MEAC competition with 10 points and five rebounds. Ross had 10 points and six rebounds, but six of those came in the first five minutes of the game when the Aggies were able to take a 9-3 lead. The Bison paid closer attention to her from there and were able to take a 20-14 lead. Adriana Nazario and Berry hit back-to-back threes to tie the game before a Doyle basket gave the Bison a 22-20 halftime lead.
"I thought they did an excellent job as far as following their game plan and getting us out of our comfort zone," said Robinson. "We started out with a game plan of trying to get Ms. Ross the ball. They did a good job of taking away our vision in terms of making the pass to her."
It has been a season of positives for Robinson and the Aggies in his first season. They had the MEAC Rookie of the Year in Ross and a first-team selection in Berry. The Aggies also put together a 20-win season, their fourth in six seasons. Robinson has been a part of three of those seasons, two as an associate head coach and one as a head coach.
"As far as I know, when I left A&T we were a staple (in the MEAC), and we're going to continue to be a staple," said Robinson. "The group of ladies that are here now and the group of ladies we're recruiting will build on that. The main thing you have to do when you're a first-year coach is to have our players believe in our philosophy. With us being the runner-up and making a run for the MEAC championship, I know our returners are going to come back even hungrier. They will be able to lead the other group of young ladies who will be joining us."