The No. 15 seeded Troy Lady Trojans saw their NCAA Tournament appearance come to an end on March 22 after a number of controversial late calls – and no-calls – by officials led No. 2 seed Texas A&M Lady Aggies coming away with the 84-80 win in the opening round.
Coming into the game the Lady Trojans had never won a Division I Tournament game and no 15-seed had ever beaten a No. 2 seed either.
Texas A&M led by as many as 16 points at one time in the game but a nationally televised audience – on ESPN2 – saw a ferocious comeback by Troy that led to the Lady Trojans taking the lead late in the fourth quarter.
With the Trojans trailing 75-73 with 4:21 left – and superstar Alexus Dye in foul trouble – Felmas Koranga knocked down a 14-foot jumper to tie the score 75-75. Texas A&M knocked down a layup with 2:08 left to give the Lady Aggies a 77-75 lead. Dye quickly tied the score up again with 1:37 left.
A layup from Texas A&M gave the Lady Aggies the lead again 79-77 with 1:18 left and that’s when questionable calls began to appear.
Troy’s Tyasia Moore drove down the lane and knocked down a jump shot to tie the score again but she made contact with a Texas A&M defender and was called for a charge. On the replay it was clear that the defender’s feet were still moving when contact was made and what likely should have been a chance at an “and one” for an opportunity to take the lead for Moore ended up being her fifth personal foul sending her to the bench.
In another bizarre sequence Texas A&M’s Aaliyah Wilson was tripped during the ensuing play by Troy freshman Sharonica Hartsfield, but instead officials called the foul on Dye, which was also her fifth foul and led to her fouling out, as well. Not only was the foul erroneously called on Dye but officials said that the Lady Aggie was in the process of shooting when the foul occurred, despite it seemingly happening on the floor. Only one of the two free throws were converted extending Texas A&M’s lead to 80-77.
On Troy’s ensuing possession Koranga was fouled going to the basket and knocked her first free throw down before missing the second. Troy’s Tiyah Johnson grabbed the rebound, however, and Troy called a timeout down 80-78 with 22 seconds left.
Janiahh Sandifer – who hit three threes on the night – then threw up a three-pointer that came up short. After Texas A&M corralled the rebound and crossed midcourt, the Lady Aggies called a timeout and more controversy ensued.
Coming out of the timeout, Texas A&M’s Destiny Pitts bobbled the inbounds pass but seemingly grabbed it and dribbled into the back court. Instead of ruling what seemed to be a clear back court violation with just under five seconds left, officials instead ruled that Pitts was fouled.
Pitts hit both free throw attempts giving Texas A&M the 82-78 lead. After a Troy timeout, Sandfier heaved up a desperation three and was fouled with four seconds left. Sandifer made 2-of-3 at the foul line to cut the lead to 82-80. As Troy was forced to immediately foul to conserve time, Texas A&M knocked down its next two free throws and secured the 84-80 win.
Despite playing in foul trouble for much of the game, Dye continued her NCAA-leading double-double barrage as she scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with three steals. Koranga added 20 points and 11 rebounds, as well.
Troy coach Chanda Rigby expressed her pride in her players and the way they competed.
“For everyone who watched, the way that our players played says more than I can ever say with words,” Rigby said. “They are unbelievable. Their fight is unbelievable. Their will to win is unbelievable.
“If you look at the differences between the two programs, you know we are going up against one of the top programs in the country. Our players just weren’t going to quit. They found a way to claw back at halftime and anyone who watched the game knows that we have winners.”
Rigby said her team will also learn from this loss.
“The message is whether we won or lost the game is not the most important thing, the things that they learned about themselves and each other is,” she said. “Taking those lessons and learning to be champions in life is what is important.
“If they can fight that hard in a basketball game, they can fight that hard for a job they want or a marriage or to raise their kids. I want them to remember they are more than champions. That’s our mantra. We are more than champions, and there is a bigger picture. The bigger picture is what is important. They are able to fight back in any situation.”