KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Texas A&M coach Gary Blair relied on a lucky coin to help him earn a personal milestone.
Khaalia Hillsman converted an offensive rebound for the go-ahead basket with four seconds left Sunday as Texas A&M erased an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a 61-59 victory over No. 24 Tennessee. The rally gave Blair his first victory over the Lady Volunteers at Knoxville in eight attempts.
Blair, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, pulled a 50-cent piece out of his pocket during his postgame press conference. He said the coin was made in 1945, the same year he was born.
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”If it gets tight in a ballgame, I start rubbing that sucker,” Blair said. ”It worked again today. I hope like heck I won’t lose this thing. It’s special.”
Tennessee (16-9, 7-5 SEC) missed its last 11 field-goal attempts as Texas A&M (19-6, 9-3) outscored the Lady Vols 14-1 over the final 8 1/2 minutes. It was only fitting that the winning basket came on a putback, as Texas A&M outrebounded Tennessee 45-34 and outscored the Lady Vols 14-8 in second-chance points.
”They just had a little bit more of a will than we did down the stretch,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
After trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter, Texas A&M rallied to tie it at 59-all on Curtyce Knox’s 3-pointer with 2:44 left. Texas A&M had the ball twice with a chance to break the tie but missed three shots on one possession and had Jasmine Lumpkin travel on its next possession.
But after Diamond DeShields missed a jumper with 39 seconds left, Texas A&M had one more chance to take the lead. This time, the Aggies cashed in as Hillsman scored after winning the rebound off a missed shot by Danni Williams.
Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell attempted a potential game-tying baseline attempt that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
”We got a good look,” Russell said. ”It looked good after I released it. I just missed it.”
Williams led the Aggies with 18 points. Hillsman had 10 points and 15 rebounds. Knox added 10 points and 10 assists without any turnovers.
Russell had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee. Alexa Middleton scored 14 points.
After Texas A&M took its first lead of the day on Lumpkin’s jumper in the paint with 2:17 left in the third quarter, Middleton responded by sinking consecutive 3-pointers to spark a 12-0 run that put the Lady Vols ahead 58-47 with 8:49 remaining.
But the Lady Vols scored just one more point the rest of the day.
Texas A&M: Knox shot just 3 of 15, but her passing helped keep the Aggies in the game. Knox has 9.5 assists per game to lead all Division I players, putting her on pace for an SEC single-season record for assists per game. Martha Monk had 8.9 assists per game for Auburn in 1980-81.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols didn’t get much offense from DeShields, who had been averaging a team-high 18.5 points. After sitting out most of the second quarter with foul trouble, DeShields didn’t take a single shot in the third period. She ended up shooting 4 of 12 and scoring eight points.
Tennessee had returned to the poll Monday after an eight-week absence, but this loss could knock the Lady Vols back out. Texas A&M might be heading back into the rankings. The Aggies were the second team listed in the ”also receiving votes” section Monday.