Defense leads Texas A&M past Evansville 80-45
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Texas A&M’s smothering defense was too much for upstart Evansville.
The Aggies forced a season-high 30 turnovers, leading to 43 points, and Danielle Gant scored 21 to lead Texas A&M to an 80-45 victory Sunday over the Purple Aces in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“We came out a little stagnant in some parts, but when we got out and played defense and got fast breaks it was all good from there,” said Takia Starks, who scored 19 points to become Texas A&M’s career leading scorer.
The Aggies used a 14-0 run early to open a 20-5 lead, and a 15-2 run in the second half to put the game away, holding Evansville to 25 percent shooting in the second half.
“We were overmatched in just about every category,” Evansville coach Misty Murphy said. “They dictated what we did out there.”
Texas A&M (26-7), a second seed for a second straight year, won an opening-round game for the third straight season. The 15th-seeded Purple Aces (15-19), the only team in the tournament with a losing record, saw their season-long winning streak end at four games.
Tanisha Smith added a career-high 20 points for the Aggies.
Ashley Austin, who averaged 17.7 points over the final three games of the Missouri Valley Conference in leading the Purple Aces to the unlikely NCAA tournament berth, was held to 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Shannon Novosel, playing on the home court of sister Natalie, a freshman at Notre Dame, led Evansville with 14 points.
Novosel said the Texas A&M defense was too quick for the Purple Aces.
“Obviously it’s very difficult to run an offense when you can’t make a pass,” Novosel said.
The Aggies had a 43-7 advantage in points off turnovers and a 44-26 edge in points in the paint. The 30 turnovers were one shy of the season high the Purple Aces had against Notre Dame on the same Joyce Center floor on Nov. 19.
“That was the difference in the game, their tremendous defensive pressure,” Murphy said.
The Purple Aces got off to a slow start in the first-round of the Trenton Regional, making just 2-of-14 shots and missing four layups. Texas A&M started slow as well, going 2-of-9 from the floor.
“They were doing a good job of taking things away early and it was taking too long for us to recognize what we wanted to do on the offensive end,” Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. “We missed a lot of easy shots early, but at the same time we were not recognizing the defense.”
Gant got the Aggies going, scoring six points during a 14-0 run that gave the Aggies a 20-5 lead.
Robyn Jennings finally got the Purple Aces going with a three-point play, sparking a 10-2 run to cut the lead to 22-15. Evansville cut the lead to seven points again in the first half, but never got any closer.
It was just the second NCAA tournament appearance for Evansville, the alma mater of Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. The Purple Aces also lost in the first round in 1999, 78-69 to LSU.
Starks passed Lisa Branch, who played for the Aggies from 1993-96, as the Aggies all-time leading scorer.
“I really haven’t honestly thought about it,” Starks said. “I’m just here for the team and the tournament.”