ORANGEBURG,S.C.-The North Carolina A&T men's basketball team completed the season sweep against S.C. State, capturing a 79-75 win against the Bulldogs at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center on Saturday afternoon.
"We came here and the purpose was to win the game," said A&T coach Jerry Eaves. "We had played well in the last two games but we just couldn't get over the hump. It was the first time in two games we have out-rebounded our opponent. We shot more free throws, although we didn't capitalize on them."
What made the Aggies 13-for-25 performance at the line easier to stomach was 10-for-14 showing from 3-point range as the Aggies shot 51 percent from the floor.
The Aggies (12-17, 7-7) hot shooting helped them snap a two-game losing. DaMetrius Upchurch's 15 points and 11 rebounds, Austin Witter's 16 points and Marc Hill's 14 points and five assists helped lead the Aggies to victory.
"Witter, Upchurch and Marc had tremendous games for me. Jeremy Underwood was great off the bench. When we got behind, he hit that three-pointer to give us a great lift," Eaves said. "Anthony Estes was great too."
The Aggies fell behind 51-47 with 16:04 left in the game on a jumper by Khalif Toombs. A 3-pointer by Underwood brought the Aggies within one at 51-50. Underwood later gave the Aggies a 53-52 lead with 10:37 left on the clock with another jumper. The Bulldogs (5-23, 0-14) answered back, but a layup and a 3-pointer by Witter gave the Aggies a 58-54 lead with 9:15 remaining.
A&T did not give up the lead again. But things got tight again in the waning minutes.
A 3-pointer by Brandon Riley, who finished the game with 31 points on 10-for-24 shooting, cut the A&T lead down to 70-67 with 4:14 left. But the Aggies responded with a rebound and tip-in by Upchurch. Forward Joe Ikhinmwin then hit a jumper to make it a 72-69 game with 3:06 left. SCSU forward Omar Sanders then hit two free throws after being fouled by Upchurch to cut A&T's lead to one at 72-71 with 2:23 to play.
Upchurch was then fouled as he went up for the layup by Devin Joint. Upchurch collected both free throws to make it a 74-71 game with 1:57 remaining.
After the two teams exchanged free throws, the Bulldogs' Ikhinwmin got the ball and missed in the paint. Upchurch got the defensive rebound, and Powell got a breakaway dunk on an assist from Hill to make it a 77-72 game with 35 seconds left.
Eaves was pleased that his team was able to put up 40 points in the first half and nearly the same amount in the second.
"The only difference with our 37 (points in the second half) was we were missing our free throws in the second half, otherwise we would have scored 40 in both halves," Eaves said.
The Aggies were up 42-36 at the half following 16-for-29 shooting.
"I was really impressed with the way we attacked the basket, and our aggressiveness in the way we ran the floor, we just didn't convert our free throws at the rate we wanted to. But as long as we keep drawing fouls we'll have opportunities to make them," Eaves said.
The Aggies were missing senior guard Nic Simpson on Saturday, after he tore his left ACL, left meniscus and fractured his femur during the game on Feb. 18 against N.C. Central. He traveled with the team to lend his support. The Aggies bench worked to make up for the gap left by Simpson, scoring 26 points.
"That's why everyone stepped it up. They want to send Nic out the right way. Nic's our team leader," Eaves said. "Everybody's really coming together. We want to make sure we finish this off the way he'd want us to. He's pulling for everybody. He's just such a great young man. He's just had awful, awful luck. But like I was telling him, one door closes, another door opens. We never look back, we always look forward, that's the whole key."
The Aggies will take on Savannah State in their final road game of the regular season at 8 p.m., on Monday.