NORFOLK, Va. (March 10, 2018) – Clap if this sounds familiar. The North Carolina A&T women’s basketball team needs offense, so they get it from securing an offensive board. N.C. A&T needs a stop, so they get a turnover and then turn that into offense.
The Aggie faithful inside Scope Arena were clapping loudly after the top-seeded Aggies won the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament because late in the game against third-seeded Hampton, the Aggies did what they have done all season, rebound offensively and defend.
Add the Aggies superior play off the bench and it was the recipe for their 72-65 overtime win over Hampton who had won six of the eight previous championships coming into the game. N.C. A&T Athletics will hold a watch party 7 p.m., Monday, March 12 at Corbett Sports Center to see where and who the Aggies will play in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Aggies will go into the tournament winners of 11 straight and 19 of their last 20.
The Aggies won despite having to overcome a 9-0 deficit to start the game, and a Hampton rally that sent the game into overtime.
“We were caught up in the moment,” said N.C. A&T coach Tarrell Robinson about the Aggies sluggish start. Robinson is 2-6 against Hampton in his career but both of those wins came in the conference tournament.
“(Hampton coach David Six) is an experienced coach who has had his team in the finals a bunch,” Robinson continued. “It was an electric crowd, so our ladies were a little bit hesitant early. But we came back in the second half playing Lady Aggies basketball, letting our defense create our offense and living off our transition.”
The Aggies (23-8) are headed to the program’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance behind their winning philosophy. The Aggies have outscored their opponents 685-413 in points off turnovers this season and those 685 points accounts for 33 percent of their point total this season. They have outscored their foes 420-269 in second-chance points.
With the game tied at 65, Hampton’s Dejane’ James missed two free throws with 80 seconds to play in OT. Graduate forward Jade Scaife grabbed the board to give the Aggies a chance to take the lead. It turned into the Aggies giving themselves several chances to take the lead. N.C. A&T had three offensive rebounds on the possession before Scaife finally put the ball in the hoop for a two-point Aggie advantage.
James then turned the ball over for Hampton, leading to Green scoring on the first of a two-shot free throw. Green missed the second but of course the Aggies in the form of Scaife took down the offensive rebounding leading to two made free throws by Scaife to give N.C. A&T a 70-65 lead. The last sequence of the game fittingly was a Mikaya Wilson steal and two more points off that Hampton turnover.
Senior Kala Green was named tournament MVP and was named to the all-tournament team along with sophomore teammate Alexus Lessears. Green scored 12 points converting on 10 of 16 free throws. Green, however, was not the leading scorer from the Aggies bench. N.C. A&T had two other players score in double figures from their bench as Scaife had a season-high 15 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Mikaya Wilson went 6-for-8 from the field to score 12 points to go along with four steals.
N.C. A&T outscored the Hampton bench 45-11. The other Aggies double figure scorer was sophomore starter C’Coriea Foy with 10 points.
“Hats off to Coach Six and his Pirate team,” said Robinson. “They never quit and we even built a good lead and they found a way in Hampton fashion to creep right back into it. In overtime we just made some plays, got some loose balls and knocked down some free throws. I am just extremely proud of my young women This is what we have done all year, face adversity with our backs against the wall and find a way to make a play and to find a way to be victorious.”
The Aggies trailed 9-0 from tip and struggled in the first quarter with only two made field goals. N.C. A&T came out more relaxed in the second period connecting on six field goals. More importantly and more in line with Aggies basketball, they started defending. The held the Pirates to 31 percent shooting from the field as they chopped away at the deficit. Despite that, the Aggies still trailed 29-23 at the half. N.C. A&T’s tenacious defense continued into the third quarter as the Pirates were held to one field goal and forced into seven turnovers. The Aggies led by as many as 10 in the third quarter before taking a 42-37 lead into the fourth.
Controlling the first six minutes of the final period was key for N.C. A&T. After Scaife drained a 3-pointer, she hit a free throw to give the Aggies a 54-44 lead with 4:27 to play. Unfortunately, the Aggies went cold from there going 0-for-5 with two turnovers over a 3 ½ minute span. Hampton responded by going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to two. Lessears snapped the run with two free throws, but Hampton’s Jephany Brown nailed a three to cut the Aggies lead to 56-55 with 28 seconds remaining.
After Green made one of two free throws, the Pirates called timeout. They used it wisely as James found Mikayla Sayle for a layup that tied the game and sent into overtime tied at 57.
“We talked about decision making and understanding that they were going to put pressure on us and we had to make plays,” Robinson said. “They weren’t going to stop pressuring us and a couple of shots did not fall. We took some quick shots, but in overtime we found a way to come out victorious. Both teams played extremely hard and it is what a finals game should be like going into overtime. It was just that type of game.”