COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Any concerns about how Texas A&M's star point guard Chennedy Carter would perform in her return from injury were quickly put to rest on Friday.
Carter scored 27 points in her first game since surgery to repair two breaks in her right pinky finger, with 14 coming in Texas A&M's huge first quarter, to help the No. 4 Aggies cruise to an 84-61 win over No. 13 Wright State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I guess the saga of pinky-gate is over," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said with a laugh. "I thought Carter played extremely well."
Texas A&M, which is in the tournament for the 14th consecutive season, advances to the second round for the fourth straight year where it will play five-seed Marquette on Sunday.
The Aggies (25-7) led by 18 early after scoring 31 points in the first quarter. The game was tied at 5-all in the first before Texas A&M used a 17-3 run to take a 22-8 lead, and it was never close again.
"I don't think we could have started the game any better," Blair said.
Carter, who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring, took over in that stretch, scoring 12 points, with three 3-pointers and a 3-point play. Kayla Wells added three of her career-high-tying five 3-pointers in the first to help A&M build the lead. She cooled down after that, but her early work made it clear that she had now lingering effects from her March 4 surgery.
"Even though I wasn't able to play, I was doing a lot of things off the court that really helped me," Carter said. "And once the doctors finally released me I've just been in the gym putting up shots and working on my game. So that was the biggest thing, just staying in the gym and it paid off."
Wright State (27-7) was led by Angel Baker's 25 points. The Raiders won the Horizon League tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history and the first since 2014, when they lost to Kentucky 106-60.
Coach Katrina Merriweather said she tried to calm her team down early by assuring the players that A&M couldn't keep up such a scoring pace.
"Unfortunately, when it did slow down, we didn't make enough shots," she said. "They stopped scoring as much (but) it didn't cut down the lead as much as we needed it to."
After their big first quarter, the Aggies and Kennedy struggled in the second, with the team scoring just 11 points and Carter adding just two points on free throws. But the Raiders couldn't get much going on offense in that period either, managing just 16 points to leave Texas A&M up 42-29 at halftime.
Texas A&M got its offense going again in the third, and used a 25-point quarter to push the lead to 67-46 entering the fourth. Ciera Johnson led the Aggies in that quarter, scoring 11 of her 15 points, highlighted by two 3-point plays.
The Aggies opened the fourth quarter with a 7-3 spurt, capped by a 3 from Wells, to make it 74-49.
The Aggies have qualified for the tournament in all but their first two seasons under coach Gary Blair in 2004 and 2005, and won a national title in 2011. A win on Sunday would put them in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year and seventh time overall.
Wright State: The Raiders took a step forward by reaching the NCAA Tournament after four consecutive appearances in the WNIT, but will have to improve if they hope to compete with teams like Texas A&M.
Texas A&M: The Aggies handled business against a less team on Friday, but Blair knows his team will have to be more consistent to get past Marquette, a team he raved about on Thursday.
TOUGHING IT OUT
Wright State senior Emily Vogelpohl revealed after the game that she played despite breaking her right wrist in practice on Saturday. Vogelpohl, who led the team in assists and steals during the regular season, had two points and two rebounds in 22 minutes and admitted that she was in a lot of pain.
"I tried to block a shot and I was like: oh, my gosh, that hurt really bad,'" she said. "But, I just wanted to play. So I'm thankful I had the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament."
Blair was pleased with the disparity in free throw shooting on Friday. The Raiders attempted just seven free throws, making five while his team went to the line 35 times and made 26 attempts.