HARRISONBURG, Va.—The end of any season is always bittersweet, especially when everything you have to give just isn’t enough. The North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team left Convocation Center on Thursday evening with that feeling.
The Aggies were nine and a half minutes away from ousting James Madison, who played in the 2012 WNIT Championship game. But the Dukes (23-10) made a strong second-half push and broke a late tie, to hand the Aggies a 77-64 loss in the opening round of the 2013 WNIT.
“I felt like me and my teammates came ready to play," said A&T redshirt freshman Amber Calvin, who led the team with 25 points, and set a new career-high with seven 3-pointers. "We just gave it our all."
Calvin led the MEAC this season in 3-point field goal shooting. “We felt like we had the same talent that they did. We just wanted to prove it," she added.
Calvin’s 25 points are the most scored by any Aggies in a WNIT game, besting her previous record of 24 points against Charlotte on March 21, 2010. But her offensive outburst wasn’t enough, as the Aggies were outscored 46-26 in the second half.
“I knew that it was going to be a tough game,” said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson, adding that JMU’s track record speaks for itself. The 2012-13 season marked the eighth straight season JMU has competed in a national postseason tournament. “The bottom line—they have character and they have swagger. They’re not going to be rattled just by being down in the first half. We talked about us being up, but understanding what a caliber team this is and that they were going to make a run. We didn’t give a good response to that run that they made.”
The Aggies led by as many as 56-47 with 12:29 left in the game, as Calvin’s fifth 3-pointer kept the Aggies in front. But A&T foul trouble allowed the Dukes to get back in the game. JMU went to the line 22 times and made 17 in the second half. Angela Mickens missed her first but got the second free throw to pull JMU within one. A layup by first-team All-CAA guard Kirby Burkholder put JMU in front, 57-56, with 9:28 left. Burkholder led the Dukes with 22 points and 14 rebounds in the contest. The two teams went scoreless over the next two minutes, trading turnovers and missed jumpers.
JMU pulled in front by three on a jumper by Mickens, but Calvin responded by hitting another shot from downtown to tie the game at 59-59 with 6:05 left. The Dukes went on a 5-0 run to gain the upper hand. Calvin sank her seventh three-pointer to pull A&T to within two, but the Dukes posted a 11-0 run, aided by two key steals by Mickens and 5-for-5 shooting from the free throw line to put the game out of reach. First-team All-MEAC senior JaQuayla Berry collected a jumper as time expired to end her career with 1,433 points—sixth on the all-time career scoring list. She had 12 points in the contest.
“The bulk of their points came out of transition. They did a good job of forcing us to turn the ball over and scoring out of that versus half court,” said Robinson. “They pressed us early and obviously it took its toll in the second half and started to wear on us.”
The Aggies, who shot 45 percent in the first half, were 9-for-27 from the floor in the second half. Calvin contributed 4-for-6 from beyond the arc for A&T in the second half.
“They just weren’t knocking down the shots as I was,” Calvin said of the team’s second half shooting.
First year head coach Robinson said that this is just one step in the process of making the program an annual competitor in postseason national tournaments. A&T is the only MEAC school to have made three WNIT appearances to date.
“I talked to my ladies about being able to compete against what I consider to be one of the top mid-majors in the country and wanting to make a statement about our program and about our university,” he said. “We didn’t come out with the win, but I think we did make a statement that our program is on the rise and is going to be one to be reckoned with.
“Our 22-10 record I think again says a lot about the direction that we’re heading in. I just want to say how proud I am of my ladies.”
The Aggies will be back in the WNIT this year, as they are slated to open the 2013-14 season by competing in the preseason WNIT.