FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP)—When Texas A&M coach Gary Blair saw Temple jump on his club’s zone defense and whittle a 20-point lead down to four with 8:43 left in the game, he called a timeout and quickly shifted gears.
Texas A&M went back to a relentless press, and the No. 5 Aggies took command for a 71-59 victory against Temple in the Junkanoo Jam tournament Friday.
Adaora Elonu scored a career-high 23 to lead Texas A&M into Saturday’s championship game of the Lucaya Division of the Junkanoo Jam. The Aggies (5-0) play Iowa (4-1) for the title. Temple (2-3) takes on St. John’s (2-3) in the consolation game.
Tyra White scored 14 points for the Aggies, Sydney Carter added 12 points and Kelsey Bone scored 10 points.
B.J. Williams led Temple with 19 points, and Kristen McCarthy scored 16.
“Defense basically won it for us in the second half,” Blair said. “Carter, White and Elonu made some plays. Temple is a team that will win 20, 25 games a year. They play a hard schedule and are well coached. This was exactly the type of team we needed to play, because we had to work hard.
“It was 48-28, and I started to play some other kids, and my bench really didn’t keep the same intensity,” Blair said of losing a 20-point lead. “When Carter and Tyra and Pratcher and Adaora got a little tired, I really didn’t have an answer coming off the bench. But if I want to play that much pressure defense, it starts affecting your shot. We started short-arming a few.”
Texas A&M opened up the second half with a 12-4 run and led by 20 points, 48-28. Temple responded with back-to-back 3’s against the A&M zone, triggering what turned out to be a 22-6 run.
Temple closed to four points at 54-50 on a baseline runner by Kristen McCarthy with 8:43 left in the game. McCarthy was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw.
After a timeout by the Aggies, Bone powered inside to put the brakes on the Owls’ run, making it 56-50. A put-back by Elonu and a pair of free throws by bone gave the Aggies a 10-point cushion, 60-50, with 6:39 left in the game.
Temple once again fought back, closing a 12-point deficit to 62-58 on a free throw by Victoria Macauley, but Carter rattled in a jumper from the corner with 2:15 left to give Texas A&M a 64-58 lead. A pair of free throws by Adrienne Pratcher made it 66-58, and then the Aggies cashed in on a technical foul on Temple head coach Tonya Cardoza to build a 70-58 lead. After that, the Aggies maintained the upperhand.
“We did everything right, we just didn’t get any calls,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said of her team’s second-half comeback. “I think our guys did a really good job of boxing out and doing the right things. Things just didn’t go our way down the stretch. I thought our guys fought extremely hard. We pulled within four points, but we couldn’t catch a break, and you need a break. You’re playing against a (top five) team in the country, you need a break sometimes, and we didn’t get any breaks. I deserved the technical, but (the officials) deserved to hear me, too.”
Elonu wounded Temple with mid-range jumpers, taking advantage of a sagging Owls’ defense. The 6-foot-1 senior forward helped the Aggies turn back the Owls in the clutch.
“Coach said in the pre-game, that we have to play like a mature team,” Elonu said. “It came down to they made a run, and coach reminded us in the huddle, this was the time when we needed to be mature and show what we’re capable of. I think we did a pretty good job of that and getting the victory.
“It was pretty calm, surprisingly, I guess just because it’s early in the season,” Elonu said of the timeout after Temple closed to four points. “Once (coach) put us back in the press, it picked up a lot more. That’s what we really want to do. We want to be up there pressuring, not waiting back in a zone. I think that really change the dynamic of the game and get back in it and get a comfortable lead.”
Texas A&M’s transition game kicked in early and the Aggies rolled to a 23-8. While Temple committed 10 turnovers in falling behind by 15 points, the Aggies didn’t commit a turnover until the 11:26 mark of the first half. The Aggies led 36-24 at halftime.