GREENSBORO – James Madison transfer Debbie Smith only hit three 3-pointers in her first 21 attempts for the North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team. “It’s just all about confidence with me,” Smith said. “It’s all about feeling good about it when (the ball) leaves me hand. It didn’t feel good leaving my hand early on.”
It feels good now. Smith is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range since her early struggles, including a 4-for-6 night from 3-point range Saturday evening as she scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Aggies to a convincing 79-51 win over archrival N.C. Central at Corbett Sports Center.
Smith’s recent success was aided by head coach Tarrell Robinson, who despite Smith’s troubles, told her to keep shooting. “When a coach tells you that, it means he believes in you, so you just have to go out there and shoot and believe in yourself,” Smith said.
“And then at some point you’ll get this result,” said Robinson as he finished out Smith’s statement for her. “Hopefully, this will carry on throughout the season. This is Debbie Smith, what you saw tonight.”
What the more than 4,000 fans gathered at Corbett also saw Smith record her first career double-double. They also saw Tracy King score 17 points, grab six rebounds, dish out three assists and record three steals. They also saw DeAndra Davis record career highs in points (17), rebounds (8) and steals (5).
“We’re looking to finish strong,” said Robinson, whose team won its seventh straight on Saturday. “This is the time of the year your team is supposed to get hot. Hopefully, we can roll with this going into the conference tournament.”
The Aggies (21-4, 11-2 MEAC) have certainly rolled past N.C. Central of late. The Aggies won their seventh straight over their fiercest rival, and the Eagles are 0-6 against the Aggies since joining the conference in 2010-11.
NCCU (9-17, 4-9 MEAC) got to within seven, 25-18, as Khyra Conerly, hit two free throws with 4:51 remaining in the first half. King responded by whipping in a pass to Temitope Oladele for an easy layup. Smith followed with a jumper from the baseline, and King also hit a jumper to give the Aggies a 31-18 lead.
Tisha Dixon broke up the 6-0 run with a layup. But Smith and King both hit 3-pointers to end the half as A&T went into the locker room with a commanding 37-20 lead. Despite coming off the bench in 22 of the Aggies 25 games, Smith scored in double figures for the 11th time this season.
“Debbie is our offensive spark off the bench,” Robinson said. “This is what I expect of her. I think it’s good for her to be relaxed and see what’s going on before she goes out there.”
Smith is 23-for-45 from the floor in her last five games and has scored in double figures in four of her last five outings. She has also grabbed 19 rebounds in her last two games. The rebounding from Smith, Davis and King was big because post players Aprill McRae and Eboni Ross were in foul trouble.
“It was definitely an exciting win for us, our fans and the alumni because we beat North Carolina Central again,” said Robinson.
The Aggies are in second place in the conference, two games behind conference leader Hampton and two games ahead of third-place Coppin State. The Aggies play host to Savannah State on Saturday March 1 at 4 p.m., before playing their home finale against S.C. State two days later at 8 p.m. The Aggies regular-season finale is at Hampton on Thursday, March 6.