EAST GREENSBORO – The North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team completed the program’s first-ever undefeated season in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a resounding 86-52 win over arch-rival N.C. Central Thursday at Corbett Sports Center. N.C. A&T finishes the regular season 19-10 overall and 16-0 in the MEAC becoming the first MEAC team to finish the regular season undefeated since Hampton accomplished the feat in 2013-14.
But who saw this coming? In November and December, the North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team battled through serious injuries. They lost to a Division II program and they got off to a 3-10 start.
But they had faith that the system works. Therefore, no one had to see it coming because the Aggies relied on faith.
“We had a lot of things individually, as people and human beings that we had to overcome to reach this goal,” said N.C. A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson who is in guaranteed to have the Aggies in the postseason (WNIT or NCAA tournament) for the fourth time in his seven seasons at N.C. A&T. “It took faith in a higher power to put us through and it’s very exciting. So, my word for the season is definitely faith.”
N.C. A&T 6-foot-3 junior center Alexus Lessears, who is one of the best rebounders in the conference and a third-team All-MEAC selection last season, missed eight games with an injury. The Aggies also lost promising freshman Charme Lilly with a season-ending injury who had one point this season earned a MEAC Rookie of the Week honor. Second-leading scorer Cinia McCray missed six games this season including four conference games.
“We had faith in each other, in the system, and just knowing that what the coaches are teaching us is good enough,” said junior guard C’Coriea Foy who led the Aggies Thursday night with 17 points, five assists and four steals.
“Coach Robinson instills in us defense, so we have to all buy-in to that from the moment we step on campus for summer school,” she continued. “The first thing we do is go in Moore Gym and practice defense. We knew as long as we had that buy in to the system, the coaching staff and each other that it will all come together eventually. We knew we struggled during the first semester during non-conference play. Every team has its ups and downs. We had our troubles early. But look at us now.”
N.C. A&T will head into the MEAC tournament looking for their third MEAC title in four years. The top-seeded Aggies will play noon Wednesday at the Norfolk Scope Arena against the winner of No. 8 vs. No. 9 game between Delaware State and NCCU which will be played 1 p.m., Tuesday at the Scope. The Aggies beat both teams twice during the regular season.
In fact, after Thursday’s victory, the Aggies are 18-1 against the Eagles (8-21, 5-11 MEAC) since NCCU joined the MEAC in 2010-11. Thursday’s game was close over the first eight minutes before the arc of history started to bend toward AggieLand.
After NCCU tied the game at 8 on two Rodneysha Martin free throws, Lessears completed a 3-point play to give the Aggies an 11-8 lead at the 3:48 mark of the first quarter. Two-and-half minutes later, junior point guard Mikaya Wilson found freshman Jasmen Walton open in the corner for a 3-pointer to give the Aggies a 15-9 lead. Walton then scored in transition before junior Shantell Bostick hit two free throws to end the quarter on an 8-0 for a 19-9 lead.
N.C. A&T ended the second quarter on a 7-0 run capped by a Foy layup to give the Aggies a 41-19 lead at halftime. The undefeated conference season was not too much in doubt in the second half.
“It’s really gratifying,” said Robinson about being perfect in the MEAC. “We feel like we had a talented group and to be perfect in the regular season it takes a lot of collaboration, a lot of buy-in, and hard work. These young women did that.”
McCray added 16 points for the Aggies. Bostick made 9 of 10 free throws to finish with 11 points. Senior Charnise Tyler had 10 points in her final game at Corbett and Wilson finished with seven points, a career-high seven assists and six rebounds.
When their three-game tournament run to the last year’s MEAC championship is included, the Aggies have now won 34 of their last 35 games against MEAC opponents. They have won 16 straight at home against MEAC competition, and they finished undefeated in conference road games for the second straight season.
“This group went 15-1 last year (in the conference) and we lost three seniors, so I knew we had to develop our bench this year. Fortunately, our starters had experience, so this opportunity was in the back of my mind. But obviously, you have to practice and go through the ups and downs to get where we are now.”