GREENSBORO - The North Carolina A&T women's basketball team was hampered by untimely turnovers and a lack of an inside presence for half of the game in a 44-42 loss to Howard on Saturday.
The Aggies, who had just eight players available in the contest with senior center Nikia Gorham and sophomore point guard Adriana Nazario out due to injury, nearly came back from behind to defeat the Bison, but were unable to capitalize on late scoring opportunities.
They trailed 43-42 as Howard's Kara Smith went to the free throw line for a one-and-one. Smith missed the first and Berry collected the rebound and called a timeout. The Aggies got the ball in from near their own bench, and Calvin worked to get near the basket. Calvin made an off-balance, twisting pass to try to feed it inside to Ross, but the ball squirted over to the Dawg Pound with a second left. Howard got the ball, and Berry fouled Curley-Payne who made a free throw to end the game.
"We wanted the high on-ball with Amber and Eboni Ross," said head coach Tarrell Robinson said. "We knew they were switching, so we knew Eboni would have inside position. Just a bad read on our part. Amber tried to take her man one-on-one. (Saadia) Doyle did a good job of standing Amber up and then we didn't get anything else out of it."
In addition to not having Gorham and Nazrio, the Aggies (10-7, 2-2) also lost redshirt freshman center Eboni Ross in the first two minutes of Saturday's game after she picked up a quick pair of fouls. The Aggies struggled against the Bison (9-7, 4-1) defense, going 5-for-27 in the first half and losing a three-point lead. The Bison went on a 6-0 run to close out the half and take a 24-16 lead at the break.
"I thought it hurt us when Eboni Ross got her first two fouls early. At this point in the season with Nikia Gorham out, up until we know she can come back, we're relying on Eboni to give us an inside presence. She sat out the whole first half and we didn't have an inside presence," Robinson said. "Obviously in the second half, she comes back and that eight-point lead they have is gone and we're right back in the thick of things."
The Aggies went on a 6-0 run to start the second half, and kept working to erase the deficit. Sophomore Ariel Bursey tied the game at 29 with a steal and a 3-point play. The Bison went ahead, but the Aggies made four straight free throws, including three from redshirt junior Amber Calvin, to take a 33-31 lead. Howard regained the advantage few plays later, but Bursey came back with a clutch 3-pointer from the right side of the court to tie the contest at 39-39 with 3:28 left.
Doyle, who finished the game with 19 points and 13 rebounds, put the Bison ahead 41-39 a minute later. The Bison collected another turnover by King on an errant pass, but after being fouled, Doyle missed both free throws, keeping it a one possession game. Berry missed her attempt at a game-tying jumper, leading to Doyle hitting two free throws to put Howard up by four.
Both teams started playing the foul game. Calvin made both to pull A&T to within two. Ross only made one of her two, cutting the lead to 43-42 with 20 seconds left.
"My hat goes off to Howard. I thought they came in with a pretty good game plan and they were able to come out with the win," said Robinson. "I just think from the standpoint of focus, we missed a ton of layups. When you lose by two points, you think about this blown layup here, this blown layup there. Even though it seemed like untimely turnovers, we only had 15. It goes back to execution and making layups."
Another key stat for Robinson was Ross' point total, as it reflected how the lack of an inside presence for 20 minutes hurt A&T's scoring opportunities.
"Eboni Ross gave us 17 points against FAMU. Today she only had three, so that goes to show her not getting any touches," he said, adding that she should have also made a few more free throws.
The Aggies will work on better executing their shots and to maintaining an active inside presence in their next game as they host Morgan State on Saturday, Jan. 26. at 2 p.m.