ORGANGEBURG, SC (February 10, 2018) – In their last two road games, the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team has faced huge deficits. In both cases, they made a remarkable comeback. Unfortunately, they lost both games.
Three weeks after falling behind by 16 at Howard before losing in overtime, the Aggies rallied from a 17-point hole at S.C. State Saturday evening before coming up short 90-85 at SHM Memorial Center. The Aggies have lost five straight to SCSU.
Senior Davaris McGowens had a career-high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds. It was his eighth career double-double. Three other Aggies were in double figures as graduate guard Devonte Boykins finished with 13 on 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. Fifth-year senior Denzel Keyes and redshirt junior Amari Hamilton had 10 points apiece. The loss dropped N.C. A&T (15-10, 8-2 MEAC) out of first place as Savannah State (12-13, 9-1 MEAC) beat Morgan State in overtime Saturday to take over first place. N.C. A&T did play without leading scorer in junior forward Femi Olujobi.
But that was no conciliation for N.C. A&T head coach Jay Joyner.
“We had a lack of effort tonight. We have to grow up. It is that simple,” said Joyner. “We’ve been flirting with this type of result for quite some time. We were fortunate to win a lot of those games, but you can’t keep spotting teams 15 points. We did it up at Howard, we did it against Central and we did it tonight. It didn’t turn out well.”
The Aggies were indeed trailing 45-30 at halftime. What was perhaps most maddening about that fact was that the Bulldogs shot an impeccable 77.3 percent from the floor in the half. The turning point of the game may have been McGowens picking up his second foul with 6:25 remaining in the first half and the Aggies trailing 25-18. After the half, the Aggies climb was made even tougher as the Bulldogs (9-17, 5-6 MEAC) opened the second half with Alex Taylor rolling to the basket to score and give SCSU their biggest lead of the game at 17.
“Our defense was poor tonight –really, really bad. We didn't play defense tonight,” said Joyner. “The final score was 90-85. That's deceiving. If you were here, you witnessed transition buckets on us. You saw them ripping past us at half court and getting to the rim. We had a disappointing effort tonight. That's the best way I can describe it. I would like to use other words, but I'm going to stick with disappointing.”
But the Aggies were facing the No. 12 team in the conference when it comes to field goal percentage defense. The Aggies shot 60 percent in the second half and over the next eight minutes, the Aggies cut the Bulldogs lead to single digits as Boykins hit a three from the top of the key to make it 55-46 with 11:35 to play. The lead went back to 12 on a Justin Jones 3-pointer, but the Aggies scored the next four points highlighted by McGowens baseline dunk to get the Aggies to within eight with 10 ½ minutes remaining.
The task of rallying was made harder, however, when SCSU went on a 10-3 run that included 3-pointers from Donte Wright and Jones. The spurt returned to the Bulldogs to their 15-point advantage at 68-53. But this time, there was only 8:15 remaining in the game and not 20 minutes.
Still, the Aggies kept fight. A Kameron Langley 3-pointer from the wing cut the Bulldogs lead to 74-66 with 4:04 to play. Three minutes later, Hamilton spotted up from the corner netted another three to bring the Aggies to within six at 79-73. But a missed Hamilton 3-pointer led to a breakout for SCSU as James Richardson scored in transition and was fouled by Hamilton from behind. Richardson completed the 3-point play to put the Bulldogs up 11, 86-75, with 37 seconds remaining.
Four straight points, two free throws and a layup, got the Aggies within five at 87-82 with 12 seconds remaining but it was not enough. Wright led the Bulldogs, who shot 68 percent from the floor on Saturday, with 17 points on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. N.C. A&T will get its shot at Savannah State 8 p.m., Monday at Tiger Arena.
“We’re at the point in the season where it is up to them whether they want to finish the race,” said Joyner. “This is a huge weekend for us. Today was the first test and we failed. Good thing about basketball is you get another opportunity in a couple of days to redeem yourself. We didn’t play up to our full potential tonight, so we need to take care of business Monday.”