The Lady Vols fell 76-71 to Texas A&M on the road in overtime Sunday after the Aggies made up a fourth-quarter deficit primarily from the free throw line. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis.
Tennessee (14-9, 5-5) seemed to have the game under control in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M (16-7, 5-5), but the Aggies, led by Courtney Walker, attacked the basket and wiped out the Lady Vols’ 13-point lead, mostly from the line, to knot the game at 61 in regulation.
“They are tough to take,” Lady Vols guard Jordan Reynolds said of Tennessee’s close road losses. “It’s the little things we’re not doing to close out games.”
A charge call on Jaime Nared that injured the upper body and neck of Jordan Jones – who slid under Nared in a collision that sent both players toppling to the court – gave Texas A&M the ball back with 24 seconds left in the game. Walker missed a jumper with nine seconds left, but Anriel Howard got the offensive board and basket to tie the game.
“We didn’t get the box-out,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “If we do, the game’s over.”
The Aggies took control in overtime, as the momentum and lead that Tennessee had built in the fourth quarter dissolved over the final five minutes.
“It’s heartbreaking for us,” Warlick said. “I hate it for our kids.”
Tennessee trailed by one at halftime, 30-29, and had seven assists on 11 made baskets. After early turnover woes with six in the first quarter, Tennessee had just one in the second quarter.
Kortney Dunbar wiped out the Aggies’ lead in the first quarter by draining three 3-pointers. Both teams opened in a zone defense, effectively stymieing the offensive attack. Dunbar’s entrance in the game moved the scoreboard in the right direction for the Lady Vols.
Nared knotted the game at 14 from the free throw line right before the end of the first quarter. Diamond DeShields missed early with awkward shots and then got a baseline floater to fall and rebounded her missed three to jump start her offense before the break.
Texas A&M made some hay off the offensive glass, but the Lady Vols managed a 21-20 lead on the boards and 12-8 margin on second-chance points in the first 20 minutes. Bashaara Graves would account for Tennessee’s final basket of the first half with a stick-back of a missed three-pointer by DeShields.
Graves played sparingly because of an injured ankle, and Nia Moore filled in nicely, especially on the offensive glass in the fourth quarter.
“I am really pleased with Nia and how she played,” Warlick said. “She did everything she could do.”
Te’a Cooper and DeShields were out of sync from the start – DeShields hit just two of her first 14 shots and would finish 4-16 – while Cooper first three-point attempt sailed out of bounds. DeShields’ efficiency rating for the game was zero, while Cooper’s was at minus two. Both players are critical for Tennessee – especially Cooper on defense – though the Lady Vols weathered their absence.
It was Dunbar who rescued the Lady Vols from the arc.
“She hit some big threes,” Warlick said.
Reynolds led Tennessee with 16 points, while Andraya Carter added 10 points.
The Lady Vols had a manageable number of turnovers at 16, but their timing was critical, especially the charge call against Nared, who had nine points and five boards and would foul out in overtime.
Tennessee led 51-40 at the end of the third quarter behind the offense of Reynolds, Carter and Mercedes Russell. But the Aggies started attacking the paint in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Vols faltered on offense.
“We weren’t getting really good looks,” said Reynolds, who noted the better ball movement in the third quarter and the fact that shots fell.
Warlick wanted the ball to get inside in the fourth quarter – Russell would finish 4-7 for 11 points and nine boards – but Russell was swarmed by Aggies, and the Lady Vols had to put up jumpers.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, was getting to the free throw line. The Aggies were 26-35 overall from the stripe, while Tennessee was 11-15. Walker would finish with 29 points, including 11-11 from the stripe.
Tennessee nipped Texas A&M overall on the glass, 47-43 – and every rebound was a battle – but the Aggies got 24 offensive ones to 17 for the Lady Vols, none more important than the final one in regulation. Tennessee also did glass work with 23 second-chance points but allowed 22 by the Aggies.
“Practice is going to be tough,” Reynolds said. “We have to take ownership on these offensive boards that they got.”
Tennessee gets right back on the road with a game at Vanderbilt on Thursday and lost the chance Sunday to claim sole ownership of fourth place in the SEC, an important position because of tournament seeding.
“We’ve got to pick them back up and get ready for our next game,” Warlick said.