GREENSBORO-After defeating S.C. State 59-54 on Saturday afternoon in Corbett Sports Center, the Aggies saluted their two seniors - Nikia Gorham and JaQuayla Berry - who both rank on multiple all-time career program lists.
While they enjoyed being celebrated for their impressive careers, the two athletes were more excited about bringing their team closer to a 20-win season. They have not enjoyed 20 wins in a season since their freshmen seasons.
"It started off great with a win," said forward Berry.
"I'm definitely going to miss Aggieland. We definitely want to go out with a bang," added Gorham, who made her first appearance in a game since sustaining a knee injury on Jan. 6. "We want to win the (MEAC) tournament."
Capping off the season with a championship title is something that Berry and Gorham are both eager for, not just to go out on a high note, but also to leave behind a winning legacy for the underclassmen.
"It would definitely be a great thing to do in our last season. We kind of set the standard for the younger girls, and show them how to work hard and give them someone to look up to," Berry said.
Their leadership and example helped the Aggies (19-8, 11-3) overcome an eight-point deficit to secure the victory and retain their hold on second place in the conference, holding off the fourth-place Bulldogs (17-8, 9-5). Sophomore Ariel Bursey matched a career-high with 13 points, while guards Adriana Nazario and Tracy King recorded 12 and center Eboni Ross had 11 in the contest. Berry had eight rebounds and two steals for the Aggies.
"Tonight, I told the ladies, it's about the seniors and making sure we send them off the right way. We have two games left to do that," said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson. "I'm just obviously happy with the win. We want to try to hold onto second place in the conference. With S.C. State beating us down at their place, we knew it was going to be a tough, competitive team."
After a slow start in the first half in which A&T shot just 29 percent and trailed 25-22 at halftime. The Aggies were sharper offensively in the second half, where they shot 56 percent. The Aggies began to take control of the game at the 12:34 mark. A steal by Berry turned into a fastbreak for the Aggies that ended with King making a power move underneath the basket that led to a 3-point play and a 40-38 A&T lead. King's tough basket led to a 13-4 Aggies run that was capped by a Berry layup to give the Aggies a 50-42 lead with six minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs would make another run. But in the waning minutes, the Aggies were able to keep the Bulldogs at bay. A layup by S.C. State guard Ashley Clarke cut the A&T lead to two points, 56-54, with 36 seconds to play. On the Aggies ensuing possession, Amber Calvin made one free throw to give the Aggies a 3-point lead. Calvin then stole the ball, and fed it to Bursey, who clinched the win with a score with 5.5 seconds to play.
"It came down to defensive stops. It just came down to holding them down on the defensive end," Robinson said, noting that A&T had 21 rebounds in the second half.
Robinson was also excited to see Gorham, a player he helped to recruit when he was an associate head coach at A&T, play on her Senior Day.
"Nikia has put in work for four years, even though we only had her for half of the season, I want her to get the recognition she deserves. Even though it was five seconds," he said. "The game was too back-and-forth to take a chance during the course of the game, but once I felt like we had the game, I got her in."
The Aggies will host Savannah State on Monday at 6 p.m., in their final home game of the season. The Aggies will take on Norfolk State at 6 p.m., on March 7 to end the regular season, before competing in the MEAC Championship Tournament in Norfolk, Va., from March 11-16.