GREENSBORO-It wasn't the way the North Carolina A&T women's basketball team wanted to end the 2011-12 season, but the Aggies did show fight until the end in a 54-51 loss to Norfolk State Thursday night at Corbett Sports Center.
A&T women's basketball team grabbed a slim one-point lead with 1:56 left in the game off back-to-back 3-pointers, but couldn't hold on. It's the first time in 10 games that the Aggies lost to Norfolk State.
"We came all the way back, we did. We put the pressure on them, we got steals," said head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs, who was honored for her 500th career win between the men's and women's basketball games on Thursday. "It was a game that felt like chess, actually it might have been checkers tonight. You must rebound the basketball and you have to make your free throws. That wins ball games. Our defense in the second half was good. We got a little more intense energy, but they out-rebounded us and they ran up and down the floor and showed quickness. We had quickness, but they were grabbing rebounds."
The Aggies (14-15, 9-7) were out-rebounded by 45-37 by the Spartans (11-16, 6-10) and missed 11 of 19 free throw attempts in the loss. But Bibbs pointed to one stat in particular that helped explain the team's loss-their offensive rebounds.
"We had eight offensive boards. That means that they allowed us one shot, and that's not our game," Bibbs said. "Normally, if we miss it, we're going to get that offensive board and get the put back. I don't know. We just didn't come with the energy."
Sophomore Tiffanie Adair led the team with 19 points, her seventh double-figure game of the season. Redshirt sophomore Amber Calvin added 10 points as well as a team-high five assists. Freshman forward Ariel Bursey led the team with six rebounds.
Norfolk State led by as many as 15 points at 37-22 with 15:40 to play. The Aggies went on a 6-0 run to pull to within 44-37 with 8:18 left on the clock, powered by two field goals by Adair and a jumper by freshman guard Jessica Lyons. NSU score the next four points before the Aggies continued to chisel away at the Spartan lead, posting an 11-0 run to take their first lead of the game. The run ended with Lyons and Calvin hitting consecutive 3-pointers to give A&T a 51-50 lead with 1:56 remaining.
The crowd erupted into cheers as the Aggies worked to protect their lead. But Calvin missed the next layup, and NSU reserve Whitney Long hid a mid-range jumper to take the lead for the Spartans. Gorham next got to the line on a foul by Marian Brooks, but missed the shot to give the Spartans back the ball. Lyons later fouled Brooks, and Brooks sank both of her free throws to secure the win for the Spartans.
"[Norfolk State] didn't have a good shooting night. They shot 29 percent. They knocked down those free throws and got those rebounds-that's the game," Bibbs said. "We didn't have it tonight from JaQuayla [Berry] or Tiffanie [Adair]. Tiffanie got the points, but we just did not get the boards."
In the first half, A&T went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 22, but then the Spartans pulled ahead on a layup by Ashley Dillard and a 3-pointer by Long to take a 27-22 halftime lead.
"Getting a good start, that's what it's about, and we didn't get a good start," Bibbs said.
The Aggies will now look forward to competing in the MEAC Tournament, which starts on Monday at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem. The Aggies are the fifth seed, and will face the 12th-seeded Morgan State Bears at 1:30 p.m., Monday.
"You don't want to go into the MEAC Tournament with a loss, but some teams have done that and gotten into the championship game. So if this is a good omen, then fine," Bibbs said. "I told them, we're practicing and we're preparing. After tonight, everybody in the MEAC will be in postseason play. Once you get into, it's anybody's game. We've been battling. We should be ready, we should get it.
"Just one game is not going to determine how hard we worked all season or how our kids have grown," Bibbs continued. "This one game doesn't do that. It really doesn't. I'm ready to go fight in the Tournament."