PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - After North Carolina A&T defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 46-44 in men's basketball action at the Hytche Athletic Center on Saturday, there was a meeting between A&T head coach Cy Alexander and his two point guards, juniors Jeremy Underwood and Lamont Middleton.
"You two have to be the glue that holds this team together," Alexander said he told his two ball handlers. "If you're not in foul trouble late, you will be playing. You can't start playing casual late in games."
Middleton scored 17 points, and Underwood hit two big shots in the clutch after coming off of a game where he hit the game-winning three to beat Coppin State. But as instrumental as the two gentlemen were in leading the Aggies to victory, there were some things that concerned Alexander.
Middleton was just 5-for-11 from the free throw line, including going 1-for-4 in the final minute of a game that was tied with a minute to play. Underwood also missed a free throw late and turned the ball over seven times.
"I like the idea of playing both my point guards late in the game," said Alexander. "I want them on the floor. I'm just trying to stress to them how important it is that they come through for us late in games."
There likely would not have been a meeting if the Aggies (11-11, 4-3 MEAC) would have been able to maintain the 38-22 lead they earned thanks to a 13-2 run that was capped off with an Austin Witter 3-pointer with 11:47 to play. But the Aggies went the next 5 ½ minutes without a score. The lapse played a part in the Fighting Hawks tying the game at 39 with 3:49 to play. During the eight-minute stretch in which the Hawks (1-16, 1-5 MEAC) rallied to tie the game, A&T turned the ball over seven times.
But that's when the Aggies turned to one of their point guards. Underwood used a crossover dribble to get into the lane and score to give A&T a two-point lead. After UMES' Kevin Mays spin move in the lane tied the game, Underwood's 3-point play gave A&T a 44-41 advantage with 2:12 remaining.
Seconds later after a UMES free throw, Underwood would miss the frontend of a one-and-one. It led to the Hawks tying the game again, this time at 44, thanks to an Olatunji Kosile dunk. The Aggies then sputtered to the finish line. Witter hit one of two free throws with 33 seconds remaining. On the Hawks ensuing possession, the 6-foot-8 Witter made it hard for 5-7 UMES guard Dominique Cowell to get off his 3-point shot.
After DaMetrius Upchurch rebounded the miss, Middleton hit one of two free throws with six seconds remaining to keep UMES only down two, 46-44. But Louis Bell would throw the ball away, leading to Middleton returning to the line. He missed both free throws, giving UMES one last desperation heave to win the game.
It led to Alexander calling his meeting.
"As a coach I have to stay positive about it because being negative about it only adds fuel to the fire," said Alexander after the Aggies went 9-for-21 from the free throw line. "We're just happy to get out of here with a win, and finally get our record back to .500 and have our conference record on the plus side."
Witter added 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks for an Aggies team that will play at Delaware State, Monday night at 7:30.