GREESNBORO - There are two major things the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team will try to correct over the next 12 days as it tries to recover from its 66-62 loss archrival N.C. Central at Corbett Sports Center on Saturday.
The Aggies do not play again until Dec. 13 when they travel to Newark, N.J., to play New Jersey Institute of Technology. In the meantime, head coach Cy Alexander and his staff will try to address two major issues on his mind ,which are offensive consistency and rebounding, more specially, rebounding in the clutch.
It was an offensive rebound that led to the turning point in Saturday's game. With the score tied at 62, N.C. Central guard Jeremy Ingram took a 3-point shot with 54.8 seconds remaining. The ball ricocheted off the back iron and bounced on the court twice before Eagles center Ray Willis ran down the loose ball.
It gave the Eagles a chance to call timeout and set up a play. Out of the timeout, Eagles forward Stanton Kidd went backdoor, took a bounce pass from point guard Emanuel Chapman and tried to score. A step behind, A&T forward Lawrence Smith reached and grabbed Kidd from behind in an effort to prevent the score. The officials determined that Smith was not making a play on the ball when he fouled Kidd.
Therefore, Smith picked up the intentional foul and the Eagles received two free throws and the ball out of bounds underneath their own basket. Kidd hit both free throws to give the Eagles a 64-62 with 22.9 seconds remaining. After Aggies guard Lamont Middleton was forced to foul Willis to stop the clock. Willis hit two more Eagle free throws to clinch the win.
Alexander recalled a week ago when the Aggies had a chance to grab a loose ball in the clutch against Jacksonville State. The result was the same, a close loss.
"It's the little things," Alexander said "It's not a lack effort. It's a lack of being mentally in tune and being mentally disciplined and understanding what it takes in clutch situations to win close ballgames. Those are two ballgames (Jacksonville State and N.C. Central) gone by the wayside that we didn't get. This one was even more hurtful because it's a conference game, and it's against North Carolina Central."
The Eagles have now won three straight in the historic rivalry. They did it by hitting 21 of 25 free throws, including going 7-for-7 in the final 3 ½ minutes of the game. They also held A&T to 34.5 percent shooting, which added to the offensive woes the Aggies have experienced this season. Alexander complimented the Eagles staff for going to a zone against an Aggies team that is shooting just 26.1 percent from 3-point range.
The Aggies (3-6, 0-1) did get a career-high 29 points from senior forward Adrian Powell. But it followed a game in which the Aggies got a career highs from Lamont Middleton (24 pts) and Jeremy Underwood (22 pts). On Saturday, the two guards had four points apiece.
"A big, big concern for our coaching staff is that we don't know from night to night who we can count on," said Alexander. "We think we're going to play hard from night to night, we think we're going to try to play defense from night to night, but rebounding in the clutch and who's going to be consistent for us on the offensive end has me having a lot of sleepless nights."
There were 15 ties and 12 lead changes in the latest installment of Aggie/Eagle. Neither team led by more than six points throughout the night. Powell gave the Aggies a 58-54 lead with 3:44 remaining in the game on a 3-pointer. The Eagles then went on an 8-0 run to take a four-point lead with 2:35 to play. Powell had a chance to move the Aggies closer but missed three straight free throws before hitting one to pull the Aggies to within three. He made up for the misses by tying the game at 62 with his sixth 3-pointer of the night with 1:25 remaining.
The Eagles (5-4, 1-0) were led by Kidd's 24 points and nine rebounds. Willis added 17 points and eight rebounds.