Jordan Nixon scored nine points over the final six minutes, and No. 2 seed Texas A&M escaped an upset bid by No. 15 Troy with an 84-80 victory in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Monday.
Destiny Pitts made four free throws over the final 6 seconds, giving the Aggies the last cushion they needed to avoid what would have ranked among the biggest surprises in tournament history.
No 15 seed has ever beaten a No. 2. The Trojans, who rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter, came oh-so-close to the tournament’s most startling win since No. 16 seed Harvard topped No. 1 Stanford in 1998.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair was at that game 23 years ago with his former Arkansas team and had to sweat out this one as his Aggies barely escaped. Aaliyah Wilson’s layup with 1:12 to play gave Texas A&M a 79-77 lead that would hold up.
Pitts’ poise at the line proved critical when the Aggies fouled Troy’s Janiah Sandifer on a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left and she made two free throws. Pitts then made two more foul shots with 2.6 seconds left for the final margin.
The Trojans certainly had their chances to make history. But Nixon saved the Aggies time and again, scoring all of her fourth-quarter points after Troy had taken a 71-69 lead. She also snagged a rebound on a late 3-pointer and covered a loose ball that led to Pitts’ first pair of free throws.
Nixon finished with 21 points. Ciera Johnson had 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Aggies (24-2).
Alexus Dye scored 26 for Troy (22-6), but fouled out with 31 seconds to play. Felmas Koranga had 20 points.
After a 49-point first half, Texas A&M scored just 16 points in the third quarter as the game tightened up behind Troy’s fast, aggressive and pressing defense. Tiyah Johnson hit a long 3-pointer from the left wing and had the Trojans within eight. The Aggies looked to be gasping for breath while the Trojans were cruising.
Troy started the final period with a 6-0 run. A 3-pointer from Sandifer tied it at 69 and the Trojans took their first lead on basket from Johnson with just under six minutes to play. The Trojans made seven of their first eight shots of the quarter.
Nixon took over in crunch time, trading baskets and free throws with Troy, mixing strong drives to the basket and baseline jumpers that steadied, and rescued, the Texas A&M offense.
LONG RANGE WOES
Troy’s best chances for an upset faded with woeful shooting on 3-pointers. The Trojans were 4 of 23 from long range. Otherwise, they outrebounded Texas A&M 48-42, grabbing 18 offensive boards and turning them into 21 second-chance points.
Texas A&M advances to the second round against No. 7 Iowa State, which beat No. 10 Michigan State 79-75.