PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (JANUARY 20, 2018) – North Carolina A&T is getting an education on playing in and winning close games, and thus far the Aggies are getting very high marks.
In their latest drama-filled, suspenseful thriller, the Aggies got a big 3-pointer from junior Femi Olujobi and critical steal from junior Aaren Edmead to down Maryland Eastern Shore 66-64 at Hytche Center Saturday evening. The win improves the Aggies to 12-8 overall and 5-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Aggies are now tied for first with Bethune-Cookman.
Olujobi led the Aggies with 17 points and six rebounds, while Edmead finished with 14 points and five assists. Senior Davaris McGowens scored in double figures for the seventh straight time as he ended the evening with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“I commend these young men because they never stop fighting,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “It took grit tonight because when you are sitting where we are sitting right now, everybody is going to be coming for you with their best shot every night. We can’t afford to take any nights off, so we’ll take this one and move on to the next challenge.”
In one season, the Aggies went from the team everyone wants to play to the team everyone wants to play for two very different reasons. A year ago this time, the Aggies were winless in the conference which provided opponents an incentive to want to play the Aggies. This season, the Aggies are undefeated in the league, providing teams with an incentive to want to be the first team to knock off N.C. A&T. The Aggies have a two-point over Morgan State, a 3-point win over Norfolk State and Saturday’s two-point over MDES.
“We keep finding different ways to win ballgames and that tells me these young men think they’re supposed to win. That’s a good thing for us right now,” said Joyner. “To know we know how to win tight games down the stretch is huge when talk about what it takes to win in March. Right now, we just have to go back to work and get better.”
N.C. A&T and MDES did engage in a back-and-forth game that featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes. After Hawks guard Logan McIntosh ripped down a rebound and sprinted down court to score in transition to give the Hawks a 54-49 lead with 8 ½ minutes remaining in the game, the Aggies and the Hawks traded big shot for big shot almost until the buzzer sounded. After McIntosh’s layup, Edmead started the fun with a 3-pointer to cut the Hawks’ lead to two. Edmead then intercepted a Miryne Thomas pass and took it down the floor for an easy layup to tie the game at 54 with 7:41 to play. On the Aggies next possession, Edmead found McGowens lurking wide open on the baseline and whipped a pass inside to him for an easy layup.
Hawks guard Ahmad Frost responded with a 3-pointer to help the Hawks regain the lead at 57-56 before fifth-year senior Denzel Keyes responded to that shot with his first 3-point make of the night to put the Aggies ahead with five minutes to play. MDES scored the next three points to recapture the lead, but Keyes, who is 6-for-11 from 3-point range in his last two games, connected on another 3-pointer to put the Aggies in front 62-60 with four minutes to play. MDES tied the game again as McIntosh waited patiently for a cutting Tyler Jones to enter the lane. McIntosh found the cutting big man for an easy layup to tie the game at 62 with 3:40 to play.
Ninety seconds later, with the shot clock running down, Olujobi spotted up for a 3-pointer near the Aggies bench and scored to give the Aggies the lead back with a little more than two minutes remaining.
“I believe in their ability to hit big shots because we have a very talented team,” said Joyner. “I think I have done a better job this year of giving the players the freedom to take those shots. We just want them to know we believe in them because ultimately, they are the ones out there playing the game. Femi’s three was huge. Keyes hit some big shots for us. I’m glad guys are confident enough to take those shots in the clutch.”
Frost kept the Hawks alive, however. After a great defensive effort by the Aggies in which they forced MDES into a bad shot, Frost snuck in for the offensive rebound and scored on the put back to bring the Hawks to within one. Edmead’s 3-pointer on the Aggies next possession went long with 19 seconds remaining give the Hawks a chance to win the game in the late seconds. But quick hands from Edmead forced a McIntosh turnover which led to Edmead making one out of two free throws to seal the win for N.C. A&T.
“I think tonight was great for Aaren Edmead’s confidence,” said Joyner. “He came up huge tonight, and he made the defensive stop we needed to win the game. I’m glad Aaren is figuring out how to score and facilitate for our team.”
McIntosh had 11 assists for MDES and Jones finished with 18 points. The Aggies travel to Washington, D.C., to face a Howard to team that is coming off an upset win over N.C. Central Saturday. The tip is scheduled for 8 p.m.