SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – While most athletics programs are gearing up for football season, North Carolina A&T men’s basketball coach Cy Alexander is getting an early start on working the kinks out of what is one of the youngest teams in the nation.
A&T, the defending MEAC champions, showcased its 10 newcomers Monday night in a tiny, non-air conditioned gym in the Dominican Republic and came away with a 90-81 loss to Villa Duarte. The Aggies are on a goodwill trip that includes putting on basketball clinics and visiting orphanages. They will also play three exhibition games in five days with Monday’s game being the first. Senior guard Lamont Middleton led the way with 25 points and six rebounds. Division I transfer Richaud Pack came off the bench to score 14.
The differing rules from the U.S. contributed to the Aggies bad start. The teams played four 10-mintue quarters with a 24-second shot clock, timeouts that cannot be called until there is a dead ball and goaltending was allowed as long as the ball was on the rim.
But more so than the rules, the Aggies are just young, which is why Alexander is gleefully thankful it is only August.
“It’s about what I expected for a first game,” said Alexander, who is entering his second season as the Aggies head coach. “We wanted to win, but obviously that wasn’t in the cards tonight. But at least we know what we need to work on as a coaching staff and what we need to talk about as we go into tomorrow’s game.”
The four areas that concern Alexander after the first exhibition contest are 3-point shooting, free throw shooting, defense and effort. The Aggies’ 17 turnovers didn’t bother Alexander as much because he and his coaching staff have yet to put in their press-break offense. But shooting 1-for-13 from 3-point range and 18-for-32 from the free throw line is not something Alexander expects from his team at any time.
“It was a tremendous learning experience for us,” said Alexander. “I was disappointing in our overall effort and in our inability to make multiple efforts. We would make one, but then we wouldn’t make two or three consecutively.”
Villa Duarte jumped out to a 13-point first half lead, 52-39, thanks to the hot shooting of guard Miguel Josue. The Aggies trailed by as many as 18, but with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, Lamont Middleton scored on a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 78-68. Middleton scored again to cut the lead to eight, but Jorge Carlo hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 11. Led by Pack and Middleton, the Aggies scored the next five points.
But Allen Leo’s three with 1:24 to play gave Villa Duarte an 84-75 lead, all but sealing the game. Josue had 29 points and eight rebounds. Carlo had 16 points and eight assists. The Aggies will play another exhibition game Tuesday night at 7.