Beat Eastern Illinois in the first game of the State Farm Tiger Classic. Check.
Postgame lunch of Pizza Hut pizza. Check.
Played in the snow. Check.
Holding on to her pizza box as if it might get away, Crystal Malone, a forward for the Alabama A&M women’s basketball team, was placid when talking about the game and her performance. But ask her about the snow, and her eyes sparkle and she smiles.
“Oh, I love this environment,” she said emphatically. “It’s great. We don’t get it in Alabama so to come here...it’s an experience, really.”
Alabama A&M held off an Eastern Illinois comeback in the second half Saturday at Mizzou Arena to win 67-66 despite squandering a 15-point lead. The tournament, scheduled to begin Friday, was postponed a day because of Friday morning’s snowstorm.
“We made mistakes that you can’t make when you’re trying to hold on to a lead,” said Alabama A&M coach Altherias Warmley.
Alabama A&M extended its lead to 15 before Eastern Illinois started sinking shots, coming out of the second half with five 3-pointers. Warmley said the energy brought by the Eastern Illinois team after halftime put the team back in contention, more so than the errors from her team.
“I think what really happened was Eastern picked up the intensity,” she said.
Malone has battled through two years on the bench, coping with three knee surgeries in her five years at Alabama A&M. With Alabama A&M struggling to hold on, Warmley said Malone, one of two seniors on the team, helped match that intensity.
“She had two steals at the end which were crucial for us,” Warmley said.
Those two steals helped fill an otherwise bare stat sheet for Malone. She had two points and four rebounds in her 17 minutes of play. Being a vocal leader, she said, is just what she does to push her team.
“We came too far to lose,” Malone said. “We had them up 15, and we were supposed to win the game. When we’re up 15 with 10 minutes left in the game, we’re not going to give it up that easy.”
Warmley said a typically seven-hour trip to Columbia turned into a 13-hour bus ride for her team. It was a long ride, Malone said, but the players are close and the tension was low despite the confined quarters.
“We don’t get angry with each other,” Malone said. “We just enjoy everybody’s company.”
After eating at Applebee’s on Friday night, the team from Huntsville, Ala., helped its coaches get the full experience of Missouri weather.
“We got ‘em,” Malone said. “We dunked ‘em.”