When No. 12 Texas A&M lost a tightly contested road game to Florida last Thursday, it meant the Aggies had suffered back-to-back losses for the first time of the 2015-2016 season.
It took five extra minutes of overtime, but the Aggies (16-7, 6-4) refused to make it three consecutive losses on Sunday, as A&M defeated No. 23 Tennessee 76-71 at Reed Arena.
Senior guard Courtney Walker scored 29 points to lead the charge and was also a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line. Freshman forward Anriel Howard was huge on the boards with 11 rebounds — eight of which came on the offensive end of the court — and senior guard Jordan Jones scored 11 points and collected four assists before she suffered an injury from a crucial charge late in the fourth quarter.
“She’s taken 31 charges all year,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said after the game. “That’s our defense. That’s why she’s a two-time defensive player of the year. If anybody is any better than her, I’d like to see it.”
After the pivotal charge taken by Jones, the Aggies seemed to get a fresh breath of life.
“She was the one that helped us get our energy going again when we were kind of dead,” Walker said. “We started our run and she took the charge, getting us the ball back. We couldn’t go tell her later tonight that we lost, we had to make sure and tell her that we finished it for her.”
Walker uncharacteristically missed several shots at the beginning of the game — which was likely due to a very long Tennessee defense that made it difficult to get clean looks — but she came alive in the second half. She served as a catalyst for the Aggies’ comeback, which began when they were trailing by 11 with 3:06 left in regulation.
After shooting a paltry 2-of-17 from the floor and getting outscored 21-10 in the third quarter, the Aggies looked like a new team in the fourth. With Walker finding her stroke and Howard gobbling up offensive rebounds left and right, the Aggies chipped away until they found themselves trailing by seven with less than two minutes remaining.
Walker drained a jump shot and then Jones made two free throws to cut the deficit to three and, after the Lady Volunteers (14-9, 5-5) made one-of-two free throws on their end, Walker made two more free throws to make it 61-59.
“They had a lot of second-chance points, and we just couldn’t finish the deal,” said Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick.
Arguably the Aggies’ biggest play of the game came with under 10 seconds left. Walker missed a contested shot, but Howard managed to corral the offensive rebound and made a game-tying turnaround bucket.
“We went into the fourth quarter and we all had to come together and motivate each other,” Howard said. “We had to pick up our energy and we wanted the win. We did not want to lose again, so we just had to pick up our energy and we did.”
After the game, Blair said Jones was at the hospital getting evaluated, and there is no update as of time of press.
“When you hit your head that hard, you’re going to have to go get it checked out,” Blair said. “When she was down the court when I went over there it was really hurting her to move her neck. There’s nothing good about that, it isn’t going to be ‘Take two Aspirins and go to bed.’ I think it’s pretty serious.”
Curtyce Knox played some valuable minutes in relief of Jones, playing turnover-free basketball in overtime.
“Curtyce coming in and giving me a solid eight minutes with zero turnovers and ran our stuff at the end of the game — that’s hard,” Blair said.
However it was Walker who was key to the Aggies’ victory.
“Courtney Walker,” Blair said when asked what helped the fourth-quarter run. “You’ve got an All-American that wants the ball and we were doing it without Jordan down the stretch. That’s tough.”
The Aggies will try to make it two wins in a row on Thursday, when Mississippi State comes to Reed Arena. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network.