WINSTON-SALEM-The first time the North Carolina A&T Aggies and Morgan State Bears met this season, MSU won in an offensive battle royal. On Monday afternoon in the MEAC Basketball Tournament at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, the Aggies stifled the Bears offense in a 66-53 win.
The fifth-seed Aggies will advance to the quarterfinals to take on No. 4 Coppin State Thursday afternoon at 2:30. The Aggies will be trying to avenge their entire Baltimore trip this season as CSU defeated the Aggies 85-63 on Jan. 23.
Two days earlier, the Aggies and the Bears combined to score 168 points in an 85-83 overtime Morgan State win. Morgan State was successful on just one field goal in the final 11 minutes of Monday's game.
Monday's victory marked A&T's first tournament win since winning the MEAC Tournament title with a 76-54 win over Hampton on March 14, 2009.
"We knew that they were an up-tempo team, we knew that they were going to be getting the ball up and down the floor," said Aggies head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs. "We knew that we'd have to come with some really good defense, and that's what we did. I'm very proud of their rebounding. I told them during pre-game, that in order to win these games, you must rebound and you must knock down free throws. I'm very proud of our rebounding."
The Aggies out-rebounded the Bears 51-45 with 33 defensive boards. The Aggies also had six steals in the contest to help overcome Morgan State. The Aggies held the Bears to a 27 percent shooting.
"We like to give them only one shot at the basket [by making defensive rebounds]. It's all about fundamental basketball, this is what wins for you," Bibbs said.
Junior JaQuayla Berry had a double-double to lead the team with 14 points and 16 rebounds, along with four assists. Freshman guard Adriana Nazario had 13 points and a team-best seven assists. Sophomore Tiffanie Adair had12 points with seven rebounds. Part of Morgan State's game plan was to keep a handle on Adair by double-teaming her.
"They're coming for me. They're doubling down. It's getting tougher down there," Adair said.
But for Bibbs, that added defensive pressure is a sign of something more than just a game plan.
"I call that respect. They have respect for her. She's earned that," Bibbs said. "When they are double and triple teaming her, then guess what, that means two of our people are open. She's got to find them and try not to take on three people."
The Aggies might have had more from Adair if she had not got into foul trouble.
"We had to sit her out a lot, and when she got back in she got another quick foul. But she played well," Bibbs said.
Adair complemented the ability of her teammates to step up and continue to perform well when she was unable to help them from the bench.
"It was good to see that when I got in foul trouble, so many other people stepped up. Nazario, Jessie [Lyons], they all stepped up and that was good to know," Adair said.
The Aggies went on an 8-0 run to stretch their lead to 51-42 early in the second half. The Bears put up six quick points to put pressure on the Aggies. Tracy Carrington ended the run for MSU with a layup at the 11:14 mark to make it 51-48. The Aggies turned up the pressure from there. The Aggies used the athletic Adair to front MSU center Amarah Williams in the post. It resulted in Adair intercepting several entry passes into the post. Ten minutes elapsed between Carrington's field goal and the Bears final field goal of the game by Briana Coardes with 1:01 remaining in the game.
In the meantime, the Aggies got the ball inside to Berry and Adair. The Aggies ended the game by outscoring the Bears 15-5. Berry had six of those points, while Adair added four.
The Aggies found themselves in a 14-6 hole early in the contest before going on a 7-0 run to pull within one point of Morgan State. The Aggies tied the game up at 24-24 on a layup by freshman forward Jaylan Bodiford. A jumper by Nazario at the 5:28 mark gave the Aggies their first lead of the game. From there, the Aggies and the Bears exchanged blows in the opening half, trading the lead. Nazario hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give A&T a 39-37 lead before the Bears tied it up to end the half at 39-39.