GREENSBORO (January 18, 2018) – The final play didn’t play out like it was drawn up on the coach’s dry-erase board. But that’s okay. North Carolina A&T won anyway.
Graduate guard Devonte Boykins popped open just in front of Aggie fans sitting courtside and netted a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining to propel N.C. A&T to a 71-68 win over Norfolk State in men’s basketball action Thursday afternoon at Corbett Sports Center. N.C. A&T (11-8, 4-0 MEAC) snapped a six-game losing streak to the Spartans while climbing into a first-place tie in the MEAC with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central.
Fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes led the Aggies with 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor and 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. Three other Aggies scored in double figures including Boykins with 12 (4-for-6 from three) and senior Davaris McGowens and junior Aaren Edmead with 10 apiece.
Thursday’s game was makeup game from Jan. 17 when the two teams were prevented from playing because of snowfall in the Greensboro area. Jan. 17 was a makeup date from Jan. 6 when the Spartans could not get out of the Tidewater area because of inclement weather. After a 12-day wait, the game proved to be worth the delay to a crowd largely made up of N.C. A&T students who had the day off because the university was closed.
N.C. A&T went up five, 68-63, on a Boykins 3-pointer with 90 seconds remaining in the game. Norfolk State’s responded quickly with a three that Mastadi Pitt leaned into to cut the lead to two with 1:09 remaining. Edmead tried to provide the retort for the Aggies, but his shot came up short giving the Spartans (3-15, 1-2 MEAC) a chance to tie or take the lead. Steven Whitley decided to tie it as he went into the lane and tossed a layup over the outstretched arms of junior Femi Olujobi to tie the game at 68 with 36 seconds remaining.
Whitley’s tough layup led to an Aggies timeout. N.C. A&T head coach Jay Joyner wanted Olujobi, the Aggies leading scorer, to come off a screen and get the ball at the elbow before giving the ball to Boykins in the deep corner for a 3-pointer. It didn’t quite turnout that way. As the play broke down, leaving freshman point guard Kameron Langley scrambling to find an open shooter. He smartly whipped a pass over to Boykins who did hit the three like the play called for initially.
Whitley tried to tie the game, but his shot went long to end the game.
“If you're going to have a special year, you're going to need some luck, you're not going to win every game based on X's and O's,” said Joyner. “You're going to need some luck throughout the season, and some days it's better to be lucky than good. Today, we got lucky.”
The X’s and O’s were working just fine midway through the first half. That’s when a Keyes 3-pointer started what resulted in a 16-2 run over a nine-minutes span to give the Aggies a 34-20 lead with two minutes remaining in the first half. An Olujobi block sparked a last-second Aggies fastbreak as Edmead swished a runner at the first-half buzzer to give N.C. A&T a 38-23 halftime lead.
That lead grew to 16 in the second half as Boykins hit a three one minute into the half to put the Aggies ahead 41-25. The Spartans then employed 1-3-1 defense that caused the Aggies series problems. Five turnovers and 10 fastbreak points later and the Spartans had the lead at 45-44 with 13:47 to play in the game. The Spartans scored the Aggies 23-8 in fastbreak points and 34-16 in points off turnovers.
“It's nothing that was invented this morning,” said Joyner about the Spartans 1-3-1. “But your guards can't be timid against it. We had a lot of driving lanes, but our guards were like a deer in headlights. We didn't finish very well around the rim either. We're thinking because we go up, the play is over. We have to play through even if the whistle doesn’t come.”
Langley did hit a runner to put the Aggies ahead again, this time a 46-45. The Aggies grew that lead to 62-54 on an Edmead three with 5:24 to play before the Spartans made another run to set up the late-game excitement.
“Now I'm forced to give Denzel Keyes a little more rope to shoot threes after he bailed us out today,” said Joyner. “But we got another huge win. We're learning how to win differently. We had a huge lead, Norfolk State came back and took the lead, and we had to show fight for the rest of the game.”
The Spartans were led by Alex Long’s 15 points. After winning their eighth straight game at Corbett, the Aggies go on the road to face Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday at 4 p.m., and Howard on Monday at 7:30 p.m.