ELON – The North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team missed its first 21 shots of the second half. The Aggies shot just 21 percent in the second half and 28 percent for the game. The Aggies trailed by as many as 11 in the second half.
Oh, by the way, the Aggies won 58-57 over Elon at Alumni Gym on Tuesday afternoon. Eboni Ross led the Aggies with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
“We did what we have been committed to doing all year and that’s playing good defense,” said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson. “As a result, we came out with a win.”
After missing her first six shots from the field, A&T center Aprill McRae played big down the stretch for A&T. Her layup with 2:46 remaining in the game pulled the Aggies (8-2) to within two, 52-50. Ariel Bursey then tied up the game by following up a Christina Carter miss. After Elon’s Jenifer Rhodes missed the front end of a one-and-one, Tracy King gave A&T the lead, 53-52, by hitting the first of two free throws with 58 seconds remaining.
King missed the second, but Debbie Smith grabbed the offensive board and was tied up, forcing a jump-ball situation. The possession went to A&T, and McRae hit her second field goal of the game with a short jump shot in the lane with 54 seconds to play to give A&T a 55-52 lead.
“Aprill has that ability,” said Robinson. “She has big-play ability. She wants to make big plays. She wants to score on the block. We just have to get her to do it more consistently.”
Elon’s Lauren Brown hit two free throws 20 seconds later to pull the Phoenix to within one. Bursey followed by hitting one of two free throws to give the Aggies a 56-54 lead, but the missed free throw gave the Phoenix a chance to either tie the game or take the lead.
Tracy King, who finished with 10 points, ended any thoughts of that by blocking Rhodes’ shot out of bounds as Rhodes drove to the basket. The Phoenix (5-8) was not able to inbound the ball after the block, giving the Aggies the ball back on a five-second violation.
“Tracy showed you she has a vertical,” said Robinson. “She has played big for us every game. She stepped up like a senior is supposed to do. She’s been accountable and she has held her teammates accountable. That was a big-time play coming from the help side.”
King sealed the game by hitting two free throws with seven seconds remaining.
Despite their struggles, the Aggies were able to stay in the game because they took care of the basketball. A&T turned the ball over only six times, preventing the Phoenix from hurting the Aggies in transition. A&T also played solid defense most of the game, forcing the Phoenix into 23 turnovers and 37 percent shooting in the second half.
“It was crazy,” said Robinson about the Aggies’ struggles from the field. “People talk about that out of body experience. Is this really happening? We’ve been off. This is our first game coming back from the break. We took five days off. You could tell in practice we were a half step slow. The ladies were still back home even though their bodies were here.”
Elon played on Sunday at West Virginia, therefore Robinson said he went into the game feeling the Phoenix would have the advantage because the Aggies’ last game was on Dec. 21 at George Washington.
“They already had their basketball rhythm back so we were just hoping that in the end we could put ourselves in a situation to win,” Robinson said.
The Phoenix got into a flow to open the second half. A&T was outscored 14-1 to open the final 20 minutes as the Phoenix took a 42-32 lead. A&T did not connect on its first field goal in the second half until there was nine minutes remaining in the game. The Aggies trailed 46-35 thanks to a Kelsey Harris layup with 7:28 to play. But the Aggies outscored the Phoenix 17-6 over the next five minutes to spur the rally.
The Aggies are back in action Friday, January 3 when they go to Williamsburg, Va., to face William & Mary at 7 p.m.