HARRISONBURG, Va. – North Carolina A&T’s Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) game against James Madison looked just like a game between two of the best defensive teams in the nation.
James mounted enough offense, however, to advance to the second round of the WNIT with a 48-37 win over the Aggies Friday night at the JMU Convocation Center. The Dukes (26-5) will advance to face the University of South Florida in the next round while the Aggies will see their season come to an end at 20-12. It is a season that included the Aggies going undefeated at 16-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) for the first time in school history.
But on Friday, the Aggies shot just 22.4 percent from the floor and at times their shooting percentage dipped below 20 percent.
Those numbers came against a James Madison team that is second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in scoring defense, third in blocked shots and 24thin 3-point field goal percentage defense.
“As good as we are defensively, we are not that great offensively,” said Tarrell Robinson who made the fifth postseason appearance of his seven-year tenure as the Aggies head coach on Friday. “We wanted our defense to create enough easy offensive opportunities for us because they are a really good defensively in the halfcourt. We did not want to continue to go against their halfcourt defense. But we did not create enough transition opportunities.”
N.C. A&T only had four points six minutes into the game, but they finished the first quarter strong, outscoring the Dukes 8-2 over the final four minutes of the first period. Tyler ended the quarter with a 3-point play to send the Aggies into the second quarter down 13-12.
The Aggies took their first and only lead of the game with 8:27 remaining in the first half as junior C’Coriea Foy found Tyler inside for a layup and a 14-13 Aggies lead. JMU scored the next four points before a fadeaway jump shot by junior Le’on Hill cut the lead to 17-16 with 5:28 remaining in the first half.
JMU’s defensive reputation kicked in from there. The Aggies failed to score for the remainder of the half while the Dukes methodically grew their lead until both teams jogged off the court with JMU leading 29-16.
N.C. A&T’s reputation for being a strong defensive team arose to open the second half. JMU struggled to score against the Aggies halfcourt defense. It took the Dukes a little more than six minutes to score a point in the second half, but the Aggies did not chop into the Dukes lead very much.
“I thought we had a couple of chances to make a run when we turned up our defensive intensity,” said Robinson. “But the game came down to making the right plays, making the right reads, things we’ve been trying to fix in practice all season. Give them credit, they went from man-to-man to zone and that threw us off a little bit. We made a couple of bad reads and that turned into transition for them.”
When JMU’s Breyenne Bellerand hit a free throw at the 3:48 mark of the third quarter, the Dukes still led 30-19. Hill did score on a 3-point play to get the Aggies to within eight, 30-22. But like the second quarter, the Dukes closed the third quarter with a strong push. They went on an 8-0 run to take a 38-22 lead into the fourth.
The Aggies did get the lead under 10 in the fourth quarter. Foy completed a 3-point play with 4:40 to play to cut JMU’s lead to 40-32. A 4-0 pushed the lead back to 12 before freshman Jasmen Walton hit a 3-pointer and junior Shantell Bostick scored in transition to get the deficit down to seven, 44-37 with 56 seconds remaining.
It was as close as the Aggies could get, however.
Despite losing two straight to close the season including an upset loss in the MEAC tournament semifinals to Norfolk State, the Aggies will likely head into the 2019-20 season as the favorites in the MEAC. They lose only one senior from a team that won 17 straight during the 2018-19 season.
Six of the Aggies returnees will be seniors. Plus, four freshmen received significant playing time this season. The Aggies also had two Division I transfers sitting out.