LAS VEGAS (December 23, 2017) – Lamar did everything it could to overcome a double-digit second-half deficit. The North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team would have none of it.
The Aggies resisted every comeback attempt the Cardinals came up with Saturday afternoon to win 74-70 in their final game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic at Orleans Arena. The Aggies (7-7) went 1-3 in the classic but more importantly they picked up their seventh non-conference win, they defeated their fifth Division I program after defeating only one last season and they picked up a morale booster heading into conference play in two weeks.
“Lamar plays extremely hard and we knew that coming into the game,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “I have to commend these young men (N.C. A&T) for bouncing back after 24 hours and giving maximum effort. I wrote on the board before the game “max effort.” I think we did that for about 35 minutes. The goal is to get to 40 minutes.”
The Aggies completed a road swing that required them to play four games in seven days including back-to-back days at Orleans Arena. Radford defeated the Aggies 66-60 on Friday. Despite the loss, a more energized, spirited and feisty team entered the arena against the Cardinals on Saturday. There were also a few lineup changes from the day before. Senior forward Davaris McGowens, the Aggies leading rebounder from a year ago, made his first start of the season. Also making his first start of the year was junior college transfer guard Milik Gantz who previously served as a spark off the bench in close games at Georgetown and against Radford.
Inserting both men had immediate benefits. McGowens played strong defensively and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Gantz was also strong defensively. His two blocks led to transition layups for the Aggies. He also had four assists on the afternoon.
Fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes also gave the Aggies a lift. He came off the bench to score eight points in the game with all eight points occurring during a 15-0 first-half run in which the Aggies overcame a 12-8 deficit to take a 23-12 lead with 5:39 remaining in the first 20 minutes. Keyes scored in a variety of ways – on the break, at the free throw line, on a tip-in and on a short jumper – to give the Aggies a lead they never relinquished. The Aggies went into the half ahead by 11, 32-21, on a 3-point basket from junior guard Aaren Edmead at the buzzer.
“It was a team win tonight. Everybody excepted their roles,” said Joyner. “We wanted to play a lot of guys to stay fresh. We decided to play zone the entire game because I thought yesterday guys weren’t as fresh and our zone started to break down.”
There was no relenting from the Aggies early in the second half. They raced out to a 43-25 lead over the first 2 ½ minutes and then witnessed the Cardinals (8-5) slowly take away that advantage. With 11:43 remaining in the game, Lamar had the Aggies lead down to five, 43-38. The Aggies gathered themselves by getting out on the fastbreak. Gantz scored on two transition buckets and graduate guard Devonte Boykins scored on another transition basket to balloon the Aggies lead to 10 at 50-40 with 8:28 to play.
Over the next two minutes Lamar had the lead down to four, 50-46, on a Nick Garth 3-pointer. The Aggies sprinted out again, however, as a bounce pass from Edmead to freshman guard Kameron Langley highlighted a 9-0 run that put the Aggies ahead by 13 with 3:50 to play.
That double-figure lead held until the final 40 seconds of the game. A 3-pointer from Lamar’s James Harrison cut A&T’s lead to 8, 69-61. Another 3-pointer from Harrison got Lamar to within five, 70-65, with 10 seconds remaining. An Aggies turnover on the in-bounds pass gave Lamar the ball back with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Harrison then hit a double-pump, fall-away 3-point shot with 2.7 seconds remaining to make it a 72-70 game. But Olujobi iced the game with two free throws with two seconds remaining to give the Aggies the victory. In fact, the Aggies were 23-for-27 from the line for the game and 10-for-13 over the final two minutes of the game.
Olujobi led the Aggies with 21 points and nine rebounds on 6-for-12 shooting. Edmead was 5-for-5 from the line and finished with 10 and five assists. Boykins also reached double figures with 10. Colton Weisbrod led the Cardinals with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The Aggies will face Virginia Tech before starting conference play on Jan. 6 at home against Norfolk State at 4 p.m. The Hokies will host the Aggies noon Thursday, Dec. 28, at Cassell Coliseum.
“The way we fought tonight tells me we have a chance to be really good,” said Joyner. “We're not a finished product yet. We have to continue to keep working. I'm a firm believer in hard work pays off in the end. You must pay the price every single day and for the most part we do. But until we pay the price every single day, we're going to have moments where we lose big leads.
I’m proud of the fact they never surrendered the lead. They kept fighting, and I’m proud of them for that. We’re still trying to figure things out, but I like what I saw tonight.”