NORFOLK, Va. – For much of the first half in Thursday’s quarterfinal, Bethune-Cookman matched North Carolina A&T State shot for shot.
But as the first 20 minutes wound down at Norfolk Scope Arena, the Lady Wildcats went cold and the Lady Aggies took advantage en route to a 75-54 win.
N.C. A&T (20-10) advance to Friday’s semifinal against No. 2 seed Savannah State at 2:30 p.m.
“This was a nervous first round for me, because I know (Bethune-Cookman is) one of the few teams in the league that had us figured out,” Lady Aggies head coach Tarrell Robinson said. “I’m just thankful that we were able to get over the hump and the young ladies were able to execute to get us the win and advance.”
Debbie Smith and April McRae led N.C. A&T with 13 points apiece, while McRae also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Smith and McRae were a combined 12-for-18 from the floor. Dana Brown and Adriana Nazario each added 10 points, and Nazario dished out a team-high four assists.
McRae’s layup with 18:42 left in the first half gave N.C. A&T a 6-2 lead, but the sixth-seeded Lady Wildcats responded with an 8-2 spurt to cut the lead to 10-8 – in a move that was largely the story of the first half.
A jumper from Christina Carter at the 12:13 mark gave N.C. A&T a 19-12 lead, but B-CU answered, going on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 23-23 after a Jasmine Knowles jumper.
Knowles later nailed a trey with 4:43 left in the half to give the Lady Wildcats a 28-27 lead – only to have Smith come back on the ensuing possession with a three of her own to put the Lady Aggies back on top 30-28.
That bucket triggered a 14-4 run that gave N.C. A&T a 44-32 lead.
The Lady Aggies took a 44-33 lead into the halftime break, despite the fact that B-CU shot 52.2 percent (12-for-23) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
N.C. A&T shot 58.6 percent (17-for-29) in the first half.
But as warm as B-CU was in the first half, the Lady Wildcats were just as cold after the intermission.
B-CU went just 9-for-29 from the floor (31 percent) in the second half, and the Lady Aggies opened the second half on an 8-2 run, taking a 52-35 lead on an Eboni Ross jumper at the 16:10 mark.
A layup from Smith with 8:25 remaining put N.C. A&T up 65-46, and though B-CU used a 6-0 spurt to cut the margin to 65-52, the Lady Aggies closed the game on a 10-2 run, the final margin coming with 39 seconds left after Natiece
Ford hit a pair of free throws.
N.C. A&T shot 52.6 percent (10-for-19) from the floor in the second half, and for the game, the Lady Aggies were 27-for-48 (56.3 percent) from the floor.
In addition, N.C. A&T hit seven of its 12 3-pointers and dominated the glass to the tune of 37-23.
B-CU shot 40.4 percent (21-for-52) for the game but when just 2-for-12 from distance.
Knowles led the Lady Wildcats with 14 points, while Kailyn Williams added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Lady Aggies, the semifinals represent something of a hurdle – N.C. A&T has fallen in the semifinals of the MEAC Tournament in each of the last two seasons.
But as the Lady Aggies gear up for Savannah State, there’s but one thought.
“Championship,” Smith said. “That’s all we wanted.”