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Thursday, June 13, 2024

North Carolina A&T women off to WNIT Sweet 16 after Bracone buzzer-beater

When the story of North Carolina A&T women’s basketball is completed, history will show the hero of Sunday night’s Women’s National Invitational Tournament was senior guard Maleia Bracone after she delivered a game-winning 3-pointer to beat Old Dominion University at Corbett Sports Center.

But if you ask Bracone, she might point to a different hero.

“In my head, I was like don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss,” said Bracone about her thought process as she released the game-winner. “This season really wasn’t the best season for me shooting-wise. But just knowing D’Mya (Tucker) trusted me meant so much. I have the mindset of shooters shoot, it’s going to fall, it’s going to fall. Just keep working on it. Luckily, it went in and ended up winning the game.”

Bracone shot 33 percent from 3-point range in her debut season as an Aggie in 2022-23. But she is shooting 25.3 percent this season, and before she hit one of the biggest shots in program history, she was 0-for-4 from three on Sunday. But as time expired in the fourth quarter, junior forward Talia Davis floated a pass to Tucker at the elbow near A&T’s bench. Tucker drew a double team. From Tucker’s postgame comments, she had lost zero faith in Bracone’s ability to shoot the rock.

“I know our reads,” said Tucker. “I knew if the help didn’t step up to me, I either had a shot at the elbow or a drive. But if (Bracone’s) man helped, her three was going to be open, and fortunately, they left our shooter open, so I just passed her the ball because I knew she was open.”

Bracone finished with 17 points and a career-high seven steals on 6-for-12 shooting from inside the 3-point arc in a game where offense did not come easy. The Aggies held the Monarchs to under 20 points in the first half as they carried a 23-18 lead into the half. A&T led 36-30 on a short jumper in the paint by sophomore center Chaniya Clark.

However, Brenda Fontana put back her miss to send the Monarchs into the fourth quarter trailing by four points. ODU then scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to take a 37-36 lead. It marked ODU’s first lead since the 5:10 mark of the second quarter. A&T recaptured the lead on two Tucker free throws before the Monarchs scored the next four points to take a 41-38 lead with 7:11 to play.

Both teams went the next two minutes without scoring before Davis took a pass from Jordyn Davis and netted a 3-pointer to tie the game at 41-41. Simone Cunningham hit a jump shot in the paint to give ODU the lead back before Bracone took over the game. She drove to the basket and scored on a tough layup to tie the game at 43-43 with 3:50 to play.

She then intercepted a Halima Salat pass and raced to the other end to score to give A&T the lead back. Seconds later, Kaye Clark got inside the lane and scored for ODU to tie the game at 45-45 with three minutes remaining. The two teams went 2 ½ minutes without scoring, but with 19.9 seconds to play, Tucker took a charge from Mimi McCollister to return possession to the Aggies to set up Bracone’s game-winner.

“I can tell they want to win,” said A&T head coach Tarrell Robinson. “This kid here (Tucker), her elbow was by the rim grabbing rebounds. This young lady right here (Bracone) was getting on the floor and getting in passing lanes. We were boxing out. We were going to the rim hard. We just have to clean up the execution stuff. We have to make our free throws. Make our layups. Make the right reads.”

Tucker added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Aggies. A&T’s defense has been superb thus far in the WNIT. The 2023-24 A&T women’s basketball team is the second team in program history to win two WNIT games after the 2009-10 team did the same with wins at Wake Forest and Charlotte.

The Aggies have held their opponents to a combined 35.6 percent shooting while holding them to 48. points per game. A&T, who improved to 22-11 on the season and 4-5 all-time in the WNIT, will face Florida International University or Troy on Friday night.

Courtesy: North Carolina A&T Athletics

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