Tech Sneaks Past Hungry Aggies 56-53

Texas A&M came to play Saturday night – small, quick, young, and hungry – and they almost pulled off an upset against the Texas Tech Lady Raiders. But Lady Raiders Erin Grant, Cisti Greenwalt and Darrice Griffin weren't about to let another close game at home get away. Powered by Grant's record-setting assist to Greenwalt for the perfect lay-up that completed her fourth double-double this year, and sealed by Griffin's displacement of an A&M pass, Tech finished its comeback with a 56-53 win.

"I'm proud of the win," Tech head coach Marsha Sharp said. "I want to give A&M a lot of credit. They came in here smart and aggressive and followed their game plan. They're going to make some noise in the Big 12 tournament and I hope they put themselves in at least position to play in the NIT, and give our conference that look.

"I want to thank our crowd for their support," she said. "We had a lot of people come out tonight, and they really helped us out and helped us through a couple of times when we needed them, and we really appreciate that."

That crowd, announced at 12,123, had no compunction whatsoever about disagreeing with the officials throughout the contest. The game went down to the wire and stayed punishingly physical throughout; Tech's junior forward LaToya Davis fouled out with just over three minutes remaining. By halftime, Davis, Grant, and Griffin had two fouls apiece; Grant, Greenwalt, and Griffin played with three personals each for the last four minutes of the game.

"There's no question A&M controlled the tempo of the game," Sharp said. "They wanted a rough and tumble game."

A rough and tumble game, this season, proved effective for Baylor in the United Spirit Arena against Tech. Officials Lorenzo Alvarez, Melissa Barlow and Cindy Knepp regulated the physicality of Saturday's contest at a similar level. Tech finished the game with 19 turnovers and 15 personal fouls; the Aggies racked up 16 fouls and gave the ball away 11 times.

"As small as we are, we stayed in the game by attacking the basket. We tried to go to the hole, and draw a few fouls, and score in transition. But the veteran team, the poised team, did not rattle. It always starts with your point guard," A&M's head coach Gary Blair said.

"This league is full of good ones. Erin Grant is one of the best in the country."

Grant overtook Melinda Schmicker's 603-assist career record with just over three minutes left in the game with a pass to Greenwalt that assured Tech's sole senior of her fourth double-double this year. Greenwalt finished the game with 14 rebounds, a game high; she also had 10 points, one assist, three blocks, and a steal while playing 27 minutes.

Tech trailed for most of the ball game. The Aggies took control of the tip, but freshman Morenike Atunrase missed her jumper and Erin Grant controlled the rebound for the Lady Raiders. Alesha Robertson's first field goal of the night went awry, but Greenwalt pulled down the board – only to miss her put-back attempt. LaToya Davis jumped for the rebound; before she landed A&M's Tamea Scales collided with her. Davis's first free throw sank, but her second caromed off -- the only miss she would have at the stripe.

Tech led 1-0 at the 19:08 mark, but that lead wouldn't last despite Robertson's rebound off the missed charity shot – Chesley Dabbs misfired and Scales yanked down a rebound – one of only three she would get in the game as Tech kept her below her 6.3 rebounds per outing average. She passed to A&M's freshman point guard, A'Quonesia Franklin, who sent it on to Charlette Castile for a quick bucket to give the Aggies a 2-1 lead.

Grant's inbounds pass on the next play went to Davis, who converted it to put Tech back ahead, 3-2. Scales' misfire from three-point country put the ball back in Davis' hands; she swapped passes with Grant and hit another shot. Davis currently leads the team and the league in field goal accuracy; her five-for-eight Saturday night performance, slightly edged her 61.4% Big 12 Conference average.

Dabbs blocked Castile's next attempt; Greenwalt grabbed the rebound but fell victim to Atunrase's banditry. On the other end of the court Greenwalt blocked the freshman's shot; following the inbounds, Atunrase dropped in a trey to tie the score at five-all. The tie lasted 40 seconds. Robertson lost the handle and Castile picked up the ball, but the Aggies couldn't convert and Greenwalt yanked down the first rebound off Patrice Reado's misfire. Davis missed but got her own rebound. Robertson converted to put Tech ahead again.

Thirteen seconds later A&M's Erica Roy lost control; following the timeout Greenwalt put up a shot that didn't go. Davis got the rebound but lost it to Erica Roy; a foul was called on Tech's junior forward as the play developed, and Atunrase sank both her free throws to knot the score again.

A&M went ahead on a Reado bucket after Tech's freshman center Erin Myrick missed an altered shot underneath, and extended their lead over the next six minutes; the Lady Raiders trailed by half a dozen points at the 13:24 mark. Myrick blocked an Atunrase shot and Tech got the ball back on Grant's steal, but it went for naught: Davis thundered through underneath for a score but was caught charging.

Robertson's trey tied the score at 17 as the clock rolled below the nine-minute mark; Dabbs added a bucket to push Tech ahead. A series of misfires ensued on both ends of the court before Robertson sank a deuce to make it 21-17.

Tech's Judith Smith spelled Robertson on the wing but couldn't get open to shoot, so she fired off an assist to Greenwalt to break the next tie with just under five minutes to go. The Lady Raiders' shooting went cold; except for Griffin, Tech went scoreless in the last four minutes of the half and trailed 25-30 at the buzzer.

The Lady Raiders came out of the locker room on a three-minute 9-0 scoring run; Davis grabbed the rebound when Atunrase missed, feeding the ball down court to Dabbs. She sent a pass to Robertson beyond the arc and Tech's sophomore scoring leader sank a trey. Franklin missed on the Aggie end and Greenwalt brought down the ball; Davis missed, Greenwalt got the rebound, and her put-back knotted the score at 30. Davis and Greenwalt kept the run alive, but the Aggies refused to quit.

Ashley Bolden arced up a beautiful shot from three-point country. The ball hung forever on the rim before falling out, backwards, into Greenwalt's reach. But in a series of events that left the crowd on the edge of a riot, Greenwalt was called for a foul and turned over the ball on the ensuing play. Scales missed, grabbed her own rebound, missed again, and Dabbs blocked Bolden's put-back attempt, grabbing the rebound.

Tech drew a defensive line in the sand at the 3:18 mark; A&M would not score another point in the ball game. They led 53-48 at the time, and Robertson had missed the front end of a one-and-one only to have Reado snatch the rebound; but Franklin couldn't hold on and Griffin tore the ball away to put Tech in position to score. Grant drove in for a lay-up, Bolden missed and Griffin yanked down the rebound in a crowd.

Atunrase fouled Grant with a minute left; the first free throw went wide but the second hit nothing but net and Tech had a tie – the eighth in the contest – at 53. Griffin stole the ball from Atunrase on the net play and spun the orb to Grant, whose picture-perfect pass to Greenwalt set up the senior's lay-up and sent Tech ahead 55-53.

Franklin missed, Griffin grabbed the rebound, Franklin fouled her, and Tech's six-foot freshman forward from Seagraves squared up for clutch free throws. The first one, with 13 seconds left, was a miss – but the second one sank and Tech owned a three-point margin. Franklin brought the ball up with 9.7 seconds left, but the Lady Raiders' defense held and her desperation trey bounced off the glass as the buzzer sounded.

Noting that his young squad gave away a considerable height advantage to Tech, Blair said he felt the team had accomplished what they set out to do by staying in the game and playing tough enough defensively to hold Tech to 56 points.

"That's all we worked on this whole week in practice," A&M's Reado said. "What we wanted was to have a great defensive game, and our offense was going to come to us."

A&M's Atunrase and Tech's Davis led all scorers with 13 points apiece; Atunrase was perfect in six attempts from the free throw line and sank three of 12 from the field including one of two from beyond the arc. Scales made five attempts from the field and two from the charity stripe and missed them all; she collected three rebounds and three personal fouls in 11 minutes of play. Castile hit one of four from the field and missed both her free throws; she had a rebound, two dishes, and two steals while playing 28 minutes.

Franklin's 31-minute performance featured six points, no boards, four assists, and four steals; Roy led the team with 34 minutes on the floor, earning nine points, seven boards, two assists, and a steal. Jamilla Ganter had four points one assist, and a block; Reado scored a dozen points on 6-of-11 shooting, missed her only free throw, grabbed seven boards and had one block and two steals. Bolden missed five of six treys and six of nine field goals but amassed seven points and a rebound and one block in 19 minutes.

The Aggies hit 12 of 30 from the field in the first half and nine of 33 in the second; they finished the game shooting 33.1 % from the floor, hitting just two of 13 treys attempted, and sank nine of 11 free throws. En route they collected 30 rebounds as a team.

Tech had three scorers in double figures: Davis, Greenwalt and Robertson, who scored 12 points and collected three rebounds; she also had one block and one steal. Davis brought down seven boards and had one assist in her 18 minutes on the floor. Dabbs hit two of seven from the field, tried no free throws, and finished the game with five boards, four points, three assists, and two blocks. She played all 40 minutes, the third such game this year. Grant's two-for-five from the field and two-for-four from the charity stripe went with a game-leading 10 assists; she had four boards and a steal in 37 minutes.

Brooke Baughman played three minutes and brought down one rebound. Judith Smith spent two minutes on the floor, earning a foul, and credit for an assist; Myrick put in 10 minutes' work with a one-for-four shooting night and three boards; she finished with two points an assist and a block. Griffin shot four of seven from the field and one of two from the line, grabbed five boards, earned two assists, two blocks and two steals, finishing with nine points over 25 minutes.

Texas Tech travels to Oklahoma for its next game. The Lady Raiders are 19-5 for the year and 10-3 in conference play. A&M returns to College Station to face Oklahoma State; the Aggies are now 13-11 for the year and 3-10 in the league.

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