CHICAGO (AP) — As Texas A&M coach Gary Blair saw Chennedy Carter driving down the court with the Aggies down by 2 and mere seconds remaining against DePaul on Sunday, he wanted to tell her not to attempt a 3-pointer.
But something made the normally loquacious Blair stay quiet and he just let his freshman play.
“For once in my life I zipped it,” Blair said.
And his out of character decision paid off.
Carter hit a 3 with 3.2 seconds left, capping a 37-point performance, to help Texas A&M rally from a 17-point second-half deficit for an 80-79 win in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
“I didn’t tell her one thing on that last shot … sometimes you’ve just got to let the kid go instead of over-coaching,” Blair said.
Carter, who set a school record for points in a tournament game, scored 32 after halftime and the fourth-seeded Aggies pulled off another stunning second half comeback for the second consecutive year.
It was the largest comeback ever in the second round of the tournament and the fourth largest ever.
Texas A&M trailed by two when Carter’s long three from the top of the key gave the Aggies (26-9) the lead.
Fifth-seed DePaul had a chance to win it after that but Jasmine Lumpkin stole the inbounds pass from Kelly Campbell to secure the victory and send the Aggies to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.
“Chennedy is a great player, knocked down shots, and we had no answer for her,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
Carter, who scored A&M’s last nine points, struggled early making just two of her first nine shots and scoring just five points in the first half.
She got hot after halftime, making seven 3-pointers, to allow the Aggies to mount the comeback.
Last season, Texas A&M rallied in the opening round from a 21-point deficit to Penn to win.
Carter said she didn’t get down about her tough first half because she knew she had plenty of time to turn things around.
“It’s March Madness,” she said. “I knew that anything could happen, but the most important thing was us playing together.”
DePaul was led by Tanita Allen, who had 19 points and Mart’e Grays added 14.
Bruno was disappointed that his team was outrebounded 25-14 in the second half.
“You have a 17-he point lead, you have to take care of that lead by executing, and I was just really irritated with our lack of execution rebounding-wise,” he said.
The Blue Demons led by 15 after scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter.
Carter then made two 3-pointers to power a 10-1 run that cut the lead to 69-63 with 6:21 left and spurred Bruno into calling a timeout.
Chante Stonewall made a layup soon after that timeout, but Carter hit a 3-pointer a few seconds to make it 71-66.
A 3-point play by Anriel Howard was the start of a 5-1 spurt by Texas A&M that cut the lead to 74-71 with 2 1/2 minutes left. She finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds.
DePaul led by 6 after Ashton Millender’s 3-pointer with about two minutes left.
But Carter scored the next five points to make it 77-76.
Grays’ layup gave DePaul a 79-76 advantage with 56 seconds left.
Carter hit one of two free throws a few seconds later. Texas A&M forced a DePaul miss before Carter’s game-winning shot.
The Blue Demons led by 15 at halftime and were ahead by 17 after a layup by Grays with about eight minutes left in the third.
Texas A&M finally got going after that, scoring the next 10 points to cut the lead to 47-40 with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the quarter and revving up the formerly quiet home crowd.
Carter shined in that span, making a 3-pointer before adding a 3-point play on the next possession, to power the run.
Texas A&M will get a chance to show off its star freshman for at least one more game, but she and the Aggies will need to get off to a better start if they hope to keep their season going.
Blair, who began his coaching career at South Oak Cliff high school in Dallas in 1973, did something he’d never done after Sunday’s game when he awarded Howard with the game ball.
The junior beamed as she held it and showed it off during postgame interviews.
Her only complaint about the honor was that her teammates messed up her flowing hair by dousing her with water after the presentation.
“In 46 years I’ve never given one away but I wanted to recognize the heart and soul that made the shot happen,” Blair said. “It was the atmosphere that she created.”
THEY SAID IT
Texas A&M senior center Khaalia Hillsman on Carter: “I’m on the court just watching her and I’m like: ‘Man, this is incredible.’ She’s only 19 years old. She’s got three more years. Y’all get three more years of that, so y’all better enjoy it.”
Texas A&M will play the winner of Sunday night’s Notre Dame-Villanova game on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
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