COLLEGE STATION (AP) – No. 11 Tennessee took on an “all hands on deck” approach to playing without star point guard Ariel Massengale, and one shooting hand in particular stood out in the Lady Vols’ 76-55 whipping of No. 17 Texas A&M: That of senior guard Meighan Simmons, who scored a game-high 26 points in Massengale’s absence.
“I was out there playing for one of my teammates who couldn’t be here,” Simmons said. “Ariel has done so much for this team, and we all stepped up to the plate. When we play as a team, the game is more fun and we have a lot more energy.”
It appeared so on Sunday in UT’s first visit in history to Reed Arena, as the eight-time national champions whipped A&M in three facets: fast-break points (17-0), points in the paint (38-16) and bench points (12-5).
“Seventeen to zero on fast breaks? That’s never happened in my career,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “And there’s no excuse for it.”
Massengale, whose 110 assists are more than double any other Lady Vol, didn’t travel to College Station after suffering a face injury on Thursday in the first half of Tennessee’s 89-69 home victory over Florida.
“She could have come with us, but I just made the decision for her to stay home and get some rest,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. “I thought it would be good for her, and good for us to focus on us.”
Warlick added that she expects Massengale, whom she described as “day to day” with the injury, to take part in Tuesday’s practice and to likely play on Thursday at home against Arkansas. Freshman Andraya Carter ran the offense admirably in Massengale’ absence, finishing with 10 points, a team-high six assists and tying for the team lead with two steals.
“I was little nervous at first but I leaned on my teammates and coaches,” Carter said. “They just wanted me to go out there and play, and it’s hard to be too nervous when you have such a good support system.”
Despite their first loss in 10 games, the Aggies (16-5, 6-1 SEC) are still tied for the league lead with South Carolina, while the Lady Vols (16-4, 5-2 SEC) are creeping back into contention. Guard Courtney Walker led A&M with 20 points, while UT’s Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison chipped in 10 points each in the Lady Vols’ balanced attack.
The Aggies had entered the game allowing a league-best 51.2 points per game in SEC play, but the Lady Vols scored their 52nd point with 14:41 remaining in the game.
“We got beat by a better team,” said Blair, who won a national title at A&M in 2011. “Tennessee acted like a top 10 team today. And Carter was exceptional at the point. I bet Massengale gets better in a hurry before their next game.”
Simmons scored nearly as many points (15) as the Aggies in the first half, as the Lady Vols roared to a 36-20 lead over the first 20 minutes, and A&M never threatened after the break. The hot Lady Vols shot 33 of 61 (54.1 percent) from the floor, compared to A&M’s 23 of 68 (33.8 percent). Simmons, a Texan who played at Steele High School near San Antonio, finished 12 of 19 from the floor in her return to her home state.
“We wanted to go out there and play for Ariel – but not just for Ariel,” Simmons said. “And we knew we needed each other.”