GREENSBORO – Call it homecoming fatigue. Call it playing an experience Fayetteville State team. Or call it playing many experienced players.
Whatever the reason was for Division II Fayetteville State giving the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team trouble Monday night at Corbett Sports Center, it was just about as entertaining as an exhibition game gets.
In the end, an impressive and raucous crowd at Corbett helped the defending MEAC champion Aggies come away with a 71-65 win over the pesky Broncos. Senior Lamont Middleton led all scorers with 22 points. He also added seven rebounds and five assists. Freshman Michael Briscoe hit two clutch free throws with 38.9 seconds remaining to give the Aggies a 68-65 lead.
After head coach Cy Alexander encouraged his defense to slap the floor prior to the Broncos next possession, the Aggies played great switching defense until they finally forced FSU’s Lane Paul to throw the ball away with 23 seconds remaining.
“The game came at a tough time for us because it was homecoming,” said Alexander, referring to the Aggies Greatest Homecoming On Earth, which was celebrated all last week. “We hadn’t seen our guys since Thursday as it relates to practice.”
The Aggies had a light walk-thru on Sunday, according to Alexander. “We saw then they weren’t as sharp as they needed to be mentally and physically with two days off,” he concluded.
A&T had trouble early with Fayetteville State’s pressure. The Broncos forced the Aggies into 15 first-half turnovers and held a 41-33 lead at the half. Their lead ballooned to as many as 11 in the second half before the Aggies went on a 12-0 run that was capped off by a Middleton layup that gave A&T a 57-56 lead with 6:07 remaining in the game. It was the Aggies first lead since the 8:41 mark of the first half.
A Lane jumper returned the lead back to FSU 30 seconds later. Middleton responded by lobbing a pass over the top of the Broncos defense. Sophomore Bruce Beckford caught the soft floater and laid it in for a 59-58 lead. The Aggies never trailed again, but it was never easy.
Even when Richaud Pack hit his open 3-pointer in the corner to give the Aggies a 66-61 lead with 3:48 to play. The Broncos scored the next four points to slice the lead to one with 2:23 to play. FSU had several chances to regain the lead, the final attempt coming on an Anthony Shelton 3-pointer that came up short. Briscoe grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
“I thought that (freshman) Maurice Taylor made two big free throws in the clutch,” said Alexander. “I thought Briscoe made two big free throws in the clutch, and I thought Richaud Pack hit a big three in the clutch. These are all first-year players.”
Pack finished with 14 and Bruce Beckford added 13 points and six rebounds. The Aggies will play another exhibition game at home on Wednesday against Allen University at 7 p.m. Their regular-season opener is Friday night at Corbett against neighbor Greensboro College. Tip is at 7 p.m.
“What we’ve got to do is show our players the good things they did and build on that,” said Alexander, sitting behind his office desk while being surrounded by his coaching staff. “We must point out to them the poor things they did and we’ve got to eliminate those. We don’t have a lot of practice time because we play again on Wednesday. We’ve got to do a lot of film work and teaching. Hopefully, we’ll learn through teaching and not being on the floor. We can’t overwork these young men because we play three games in five days.”