GREENSBORO – Lamont Middleton and Richaud Pack had big games for North Carolina A&T Saturday night at Corbett Sports Center. Middleton finished with 26 points and five rebounds, while Pack ended the night with 25 points and eight rebounds on 10-for-10 shooting at the foul line.
But the biggest minutes played in A&T’s 68-67 overtime win over Morgan State may have been the ones played by a freshman who came into the game averaging just 6.3 minutes per game. Six-foot-nine center Steven Burrough hit two big free throws to send the game into overtime and then played solid defense on Morgan State’s 7-2 center Ian Chiles down the stretch to give the Bears (6-11, 4-1 MEAC) their first conference loss.
“I thought he effectively took Ian Chiles out of the game the last four minutes,” said Alexander. “They couldn’t get the ball to him. He did a tremendous job on him.”
A&T (7-13, 3-2 MEAC) sent the game into overtime despite never taking the lead in regulation. With the Aggies trailing 57-51 with a little more than four minutes remaining, Pack hit back-to-back threes to tie the game at 57 with 2:48 to play in regulation. The Bears tried to respond by getting the ball to Chiles who finished the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. In attempt to prevent Chiles from receiving the ball on the block, A&T center Bryan Akinkugbe was called for a foul, sending Chiles to the line and sending Akinkugbe to the bench with his fifth foul. The call left Alexander with a decision to make.
“When Bryan fouled out I had to make a decision on who would be best to guard (Chiles),” said Alexander. “My gut said Steven was the biggest, so let’s go with the biggest. He was probably the least experienced, but he was the biggest.”
Alexander’s decision would pay off in more ways than one. Chiles hit his two free throws to give the Bears a 59-57 advantage. After an Aggies turnover, Blake Bozeman’s 3-pointer rimmed out. As Burrough went for the rebound, Chiles came over his back for the foul, sending Burrough, a 57 percent free throw shooter with only 14 attempts this season to the line with 1:26 to play.
Burrough calmly knocked down the two free throws that would eventually send the game into overtime tied at 59.
A&T took its first lead of the game in the overtime period as Middleton’s two free throws gave A&T a 63-62 lead with 3:19 to play. Two more Middleton free throws increased the Aggies lead to three, but MSU guard Justin Black quickly came down the floor and hit a step back 3-pointer, his first and only three of the night, to tie the game at 65 with 2:30 remaining.
Pack gave the Aggies the lead back with a free throw, but on his second free throw, he was called for a lane violation, which gave MSU the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Black did just that by hitting a baseline jumper with 11 seconds to play to give MSU a 67-66 lead.
Even with timeouts remaining, the Aggies didn’t hesitate. Senior point guard Jeremy Underwood pushed the ball up the floor and found and sprinting Pack going toward the basket. Underwood’s laser pass landed in the hands of Pack who scored with a layup over the extended arm of Chiles to give A&T a 68-67 lead with 6.9 seconds remaining.
“It was more of Jeremy’s idea to be honest,” said Pack about the decision to try to score in transition. “I saw we were pushing the ball up the floor and Jeremy turned to me and threw it. I just had to make a play.”
Everything seemed to be looking up when Black, in an attempt to win the game, ran over Underwood and was called for an offensive foul with five seconds to play. But on the inbounds pass, Underwood was called for a backcourt violation, giving the Bears the ball back with 3.6 to play.
Hubbard would get to the rim, but his layup came up short as the Aggies improved to 5-1 at home this season. Black led the Bears with 19 points and nine rebounds. Chiles scored the first two points of overtime, but never scored again in the extra period.
The Aggies, who bounced back after enduring their worst MEAC loss in school history last Wednesday night, will face Coppin State 6 p.m., Monday at Corbett.
“This game was a test of our character,” said Alexander about the MSU win. “Everyone in this room knows what happened to us Wednesday. Either we were going to stand up like men; which was my request to the team, my challenge to them. Or we were going to fold our tent and have a mediocre season. This was a great show of resiliency.”