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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Madi Buck shared a long and tearful embrace with North Dakota coach Travis Brewster when she left Sunday night's game against Texas A&M with the Aggies seconds from wrapping up a 70-55 victory in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament.
But it wasn't just the senior playing her last game who was weepy. Brewster was overcome with emotion at the end of his star's career after she led North Dakota to its first appearance in the tournament.
"To have her for four years and to watch her grow as a player and person I really wish I could put it in words," Brewster said as a tear trickled down his face. "I'm happy for the opportunity. It's tough for me because I didn't want her to go out like that. I didn't want anybody to go out like that."
Buck, who led North Dakota (22-10) with 22 points and nine rebounds, was happy with what North Dakota was able to do this season.
"The accomplishments that we had this year will go down in the history books," she said. "We were the first team to make it to the NCAA tournament, the first team to win the Big Sky tournament. We have a lot to be proud of ... we can't hang our heads."
She's looking for the team to build on this year's success.
"Hopefully this just makes them hungry to come back next year," said Buck, who scored in double digits in all but four games this season.
Courtney Walker had 19 points and eight rebounds and No. 3 seed Texas A&M used a big run to pull away from 14-seed North Dakota and cruise to win.
The Aggies, who won the national title in 2011, were making their ninth straight appearance in the tournament and North Dakota was one of five women's teams in the tournament for the first time.
North Dakota didn't look like a tournament rookie early. The game was tied late in the first half before Texas A&M (25-8) went on a 14-0 run that spanned the first and second halves to go on top 40-26 with 16½ minutes remaining.
Tori Scott and Walker scored six points each in that stretch. North Dakota missed two shots at the beginning of the second half before A&M's smothering defense forced them into turnovers on four straight possessions to help the Aggies build the lead.
"Credit them because they cranked it up and used all their strengths to their advantage," Brewster said.
Karla Gilbert added 14 points with eight rebounds and five blocks for the Aggies, who won in the opening round of the tournament for the eighth consecutive year. Scott finished with 14 points and Jordan Jones had eight points and 11 assists for A&M.
Texas A&M will face No. 11 seed James Madison in the second round on Tuesday night.
North Dakota didn't score in the second half until a jump shot by Buck with about 16 minutes left. The team couldn't build on that and Texas A&M scored the next six points to extend its advantage to 46-28.
Gilbert took over soon after that, scoring eight of A&M's points in a 10-5 spurt that made it 56-34 with 12 minutes remaining.
The Aggies had a 20-point lead with nine minutes left before a 15-7 run by North Dakota, with most of A&M's starters on the bench, cut the lead to 65-53 with less than two minutes to go. North Dakota made eight free throws in that time and Buck capped the run with a 3-pointer.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair called a timeout after Buck's 3 and had his arms crossed and shook his head as he slowly walked toward the players during the break.
The Aggies led by seven points early before North Dakota used a 13-8 run to get within 18-16 with eight minutes left in the first half. Buck scored the last eight points of the run capped by a pair of 3s.
The Aggies scored the next six points before an 8-0 spurt by North Dakota tied it at 24-all with two minutes left in the first half.
A free throw by Siri Burck tied it at 26-26 a few seconds later, but the Aggies scored the last four points of the half to take a 30-26 lead into the break.