NOTRE DAME, Ind. – (ncataggies.com) After their 95-61 loss to No. 1 seed Notre Dame in a first round NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament game at Purcell Pavilion, North Carolina A&T did not talk like a team willing to wait another seven years before they make their next NCAA appearance.
N.C. A&T’s season comes to an end at 19-12. The Fighting Irish (32-1) shot 59 percent from the floor and had 29 of their 34 baskets assisted. But the Irish are the top seed in the Lexington (Ky.) region and they are the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Their resume also includes reaching five straight Final Fours, winning three straight regular-season ACC and tournament titles and 21 straight NCAA appearances.
The Aggies are a team that came into the NCAA tournament having won 10 of their last 11 games to win a share of the MEAC regular-season title as well as the MEAC tournament title which earned the Aggies an automatic bid to the tournament. But having faced an accomplished program like Notre Dame under the bright lights and enormous stage of the tournament gave the Aggies valuable experience.
“Nobody understands our journey and what it took to have an opportunity to play one of the best teams in this country,” said N.C. A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson. “I’m proud of my seniors. For the returning players, I told them to remember this moment because we are going to be back here.”
Three Aggies scored in double figures led by one of Robinson’s returning players, sophomore Kala Green, as she finished with 12. Redshirt junior Dana Brown, another returner, finished with 11. Graduate center Aprill McRae finished her career with 10 points and seven rebounds. McRae said the Aggies not having been to the tournament in seven years translated to some unknowns. “I think next year and years to come they will be more prepared and have a better idea of the competition instead of wondering what it is like because it hasn’t been done since 2009. They will have more of a sense of what they need to do to get here.”
Notre Dame was playing at their home arena where they have won 29 straight games, so the Aggies did look a little flustered at the outset playing in front of the noisy Irish crowd. The Irish jumped out to a 9-2 lead before Brown settled the Aggies with a 3-pointer. Brown’s three was followed by some missed open shots and turnovers by the Aggies and Notre Dame capitalized with a 12-0 run to take a 21-5 lead in the first quarter.
Again the Aggies stopped the run with a 3-pointer as Whitney Martin spotted up in the corner in transition to hit the triple. Brown made it a 6-0 run with a 3-pointer off the glass as N.C. A&T trailed just 25-13 at the end of the first quarter. N.C. A&T was able to stay within 12 for the most part, over the first five minutes of the second quarter, as two Courtney Powell free throws made it 33-21 with 5:09 to play in the first half.
But a 7-1 run by the Irish was capped by a layup from ACC Player of the Year Brianna Turner to give the Irish a 40-22 lead. McRae’s jump shot from the free throw line rattled in to end the run, but the Irish then scored the final 12 points of the half to take a 52-24 halftime lead.
“We were trying to guard [Dana] Brown because she is a really good 3-point shooter,” said Hall of Fame Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “She did end up shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line. I think she got a few of those in the second half when we went zone. We were trying to keep the ball out of the [Aprill] McRae’s hands and Brown’s hands and we did a decent job on McRae. Brown got loose for some good looks and that was a little bit disappointing. But overall I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Brown will be one of nine players scheduled to return next season. Six-foot-5 Channing James, who sat out this season, is scheduled to start her career next season. In addition, the Aggies have signed an impressive five-player class. They do lose their leading scorer in McRae, their top offensive rebounder in Powell, the program’s second all-time leader in assist in Christina Carter and veteran leader Adriana Nazario. But there is no reason to believe the Aggies don’t have enough talent to make another run at an NCAA appearance.
“This isn’t a sad moment to me, I got here for the first time as a head coach,” Robinson said after the game. “Now I know what to expect and now the young women that are a part of this program know what to expect.”