Simmons, Carter lead Lady Vols

The Lady Vols reentered the SEC race with a 76-55 road win over Texas A&M, handing the Aggies their first conference loss and doing so with a redshirt freshman point guard. Go inside for analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (16-4, 5-2) led Texas A&M (16-5, 6-1) from tip to finish Sunday in College Station, stopping the Aggies' winning streak at home this season and saddling them with their first SEC loss.

The Lady Vols did so with junior point guard Ariel Massengale back home in Knoxville after she sustained a facial injury in Thursday's game and was held out for medical reasons.

Two guards led the way for Tennessee in redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, who went the distance at point guard and tallied 10 points and six assists, and senior Meighan Simmons, who led all scorers with 26 points in her home state of Texas, and logged 39 minutes and 10 seconds.

That is worth noting because Simmons has struggled sometimes when playing in front of family and friends. But on Sunday, she was 12-19 from the floor – following 5-10 from long range Thursday in Knoxville with her parents in attendance – and noticeably relaxed on the court.

Carter and Simmons looked like they could play another game – they are both lean and athletic – and the freshman and senior delivered just what their team needed in poise from Carter and points from Simmons.

It is also worth noting that Simmons had three assists and one turnover – though it appears the official scorer missed one for Simmons and one for Carter, who is listed with two but had three. However, considering the 79 combined minutes, the miscue total, regardless of unofficial count, was outstanding.

Two other players reached double-digits for Tennessee – Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves added 10 each. Cierra Burdick and Mercedes Russell added eight points each, and all four players rebounded well out of the zone.

Burdick got the start and played with energy – critical for the opening of the game – and finished with nine boards after battling bigger players inside.

"The ball goes up, Cierra is always around it," Coach Holly Warlick said. "She is a tremendous rebounder."

Warlick was pleased with the entire team – the players followed the game plan on each end with stout defense and took excellent shots on offense.

"What a performance," Warlick said. "It was a complete team effort."

Warlick went with a starting lineup of one senior, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman. Coaches want a lineup that will get a team off to a good start, and those five delivered.

Carter's job was to play within herself and take care of the ball. She did both and added some scoring punch. She also was one of the key reasons why the 3-2 matchup zone worked so well – she is fast enough to match up with nearly everyone on the perimeter, or so it seemed.

Carter is active and has quick hands. She also has a high basketball IQ, which was on display to close the first half. The Lady Vols had a 34-20 lead with Simmons open for a breakaway layup, but Carter didn't put enough on the long pass, and Texas A&M picked it.

But Carter anticipated a sideline pass by the Aggies on their next possession, swiped the ball and went unimpeded to Tennessee's basket for a 36-20 lead to close the first half.

It was a stellar first half for Tennessee with 20 more minutes to go – and that was their downfall earlier in the week against Notre Dame. The situation was made even stickier because Texas A&M was 10-0 at home this season.

The Aggies scored the first four points of the second half to trim the lead to 36-24, but Tennessee answered with a Burdick jumper and Harrison stick-back. Warlick, however, wanted a timeout less than two minutes into the second half, specifically to talk about defense.

"I think I've got to be a little bit more strategic on my timeouts," Warlick said. "It settled them down."

Carter kept the team settled down by protecting the ball and setting the tone on defense. Since Massengale had to stay home, she knew all weekend that she would start on the road against a team undefeated in the SEC.

"I just leaned on my teammates and my coaches," Carter said. "I was a little anxious, but my teammates had full confidence in me. … When I started thinking out there too much, that is when I play timid."

Tennessee also got significant minutes from Russell. The freshman post grabbed 11 rebounds, a career high.

"She's handling the physical play … She doesn't back down and I think she just banged with them," Warlick said. "I think she knew the importance for us getting rebounds and getting stops."

Graves and Harrison dealt with a little foul trouble, so Russell had to log meaningful minutes in both halves. Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 42-37, and grabbed 14 on the offensive end despite shooting 54.1 percent.

The Lady Vols had 13 assists and 10 turnovers. A&M had nine turnovers and won the points off miscues, 13-11, but Tennessee dominated points in the paint, 38-16.

"Their guards are great defenders," Carter said. "We knew we had to take care of the ball. We ran double suicides (in practice) for turning it over. That has kept turnovers on our mind."

The Lady Vols also had the running game in motion and outscored Texas A&M, 17-0, in fast break points, a statistic that makes the lack of turnovers, whether 10 or the unofficial count of 12, even more impressive.

The Aggies had allowed just 54.5 points per game this year. Tennessee's 76 points were the second-highest on the season, just behind Syracuse's 78.

"Carter was exceptional at the point. She did a great job running the show for 40 minutes. I bet Massengale will get well in a hurry before the next game," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair quipped.

Blair also credited the attitude of Simmons – "she can score in tough situations" – and said that the senior had his vote for SEC player of the year.

Tennessee is now bunched at the top right behind A&M and South Carolina at 6-1 and with Vanderbilt and LSU at 5-2.

"That is probably not going to be our last loss," Blair said. "Tennessee probably has got some losses in front of them. That is how balanced this league is."

After a rough start to the week with the loss to Notre Dame, the Lady Vols regrouped and got two SEC wins. Arkansas is next with a Thursday tip in Knoxville and then Tennessee is on the road for two consecutive games against Alabama, which now has wins over Kentucky and Georgia, and Ole Miss.

"Dean talks about just continuing," Carter said. "We have to have a killer instinct. We have to keep it going."

"It gives us confidence," Warlick said. "We didn't want to go down three losses in the SEC. We thought we could make a very good statement here. We thought it would be a tough place to play, which it was.

"We're just building our momentum. If we play solid and play together with each other, we're a dad-gum good basketball team."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Holly Warlick via utsportstv

Meighan Simmons, Andraya Carter via utsportv

Texas A&M post-game press conference


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