SAVANNAH, Ga. (February 12, 2018) – In a matchup between the No. 1 team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the No. 2 team in the league, North Carolina A&T almost fought through injuries, foul trouble and a pace of play that resembled the 100 meters being ran for 40 minutes.
But in the end, fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes could not hold on to a lobbed in-bound pass with 1.9 seconds remaining in the game as No. 1 Savannah State held off the No. 2 Aggies 108-106 in men’s basketball play at Tiger Arena on Monday. N.C. A&T (15-11, 8-3 MEAC) are still in second place, but with the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats’ (14-12, 8-3 MEAC) win over North Carolina Central on Saturday, the Aggies are now in a tie for second. Savannah State (13-13, 10-1 MEAC) took a two-game lead over both teams.
It was a career night for Keyes, the former Aggies football player who led the football team in receiving in 2016 and the basketball team in rebounding in 2015-16. Keyes posted career highs in points (28), field goals made (12), field goals attempted (20) and he tied a career high in assists (3). Keyes also had 13 rebounds as he recorded his fourth career double-double. Keyes led five Aggie starters in double figures as freshman point guard Kameron Langley posted career highs in points (18) and steals (5), while also dishing out nine assists to only two turnovers.
Senior Davaris McGowens and graduate guard Devonte Boykins had 16 apiece, while junior Aaren Edmead finished with 15.
“I have to give my young men credit, they fought much harder tonight than they did up at South Carolina State,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “You could see the passion, you could see the want to win. Now I just have to figure why we like to spot teams big leads. If I can figure what causes that, we could do something really special this season.”
The Aggies have seen deficits in the teens in four out of their last six games including in both games of their South Carolina/Georgia swing through the MEAC. A part of the Aggies problem is that they played without leading scorer Femi Olujobi for the second straight game. They also played without reserve junior forward Japhet Kadji.
That proved to be tough against a Savannah State team that leads the nation in 3-point field goals made and attempted. The Tigers also hoist more than 70 shots per game and Monday night was no different. SSU put up 74 shots against the Aggies and led 55-44 at halftime behind nine first-half threes.
One minute into the second half, the Aggies trailed 59-44 thanks to a Dexter McClanahan layup. But in true in Aggie fashion, they staged a comeback. Four minutes into the half, Langley went baseline and dump the ball off to a cutting Keyes who finished at the basket and was fouled. Keyes competed the 3-point play to dwindled SSU’s lead down to 63-56.
Langley was at again with 13:31 remaining in the game as he found Edmead going to the basket to keep the Aggies within seven at 71-64. N.C. A&T’s comeback, however, was threatened by a four call on McGowens with 12:51 to go. McGowens, the Aggies leading scorer against conference opponents, had to go the bench with his fourth foul. With Femi sidelined, the Aggies top two scorers were not on the bench.
N.C. A&T did not fret. A Langley steal and layup cut the lead to 71-66. Two Langley free throws then cut the lead to three. The Aggies kept chipping away at the SSU lead until an Edmead 3-pointer finally put them on top, 83-82 with 8:51 remaining. By the time McGowens returned with 7:09 to play, the game was tied at 88.
“Guys on this team have learned how to step in and fill the roles we need them to fill,” said Joyner. “I thought Denzel an Kam kept us in it when McGowens had to go to the bench,” said Joyner.
N.C. A&T had a lead as big as five, 93-88, with 6:20 remaining. But Savannah State recaptured the lead on a McClanahan 3-pointer with 4 ½ minutes to go as the Tigers took a 96-95 lead. A Javaris Jenkins 3-pointer pushed the Tigers lead to four, 101-97 with 3:34 to play. Two Langley free throws and a pass from Langley to Keyes tied the game at 101 a minute later.
Ty’lik Evans put the Tigers ahead by driving down the lane and scoring a layup. The Tigers got the ball back as Boykins was called for an offensive foul. Zach Sellers took advantage with another SSU layup to take a 105-101 lead with 93 seconds remaining in the game.
N.C. A&T gave the Tigers another possession as Langley drove down the lane, tried to dump off a pass to McGowens, but this time it didn’t work. McGowens could not handle the pass, leading to a Khalen Pickett dunk and a 107-101 Tiger lead with 1:04 remaining.
That was plenty of time for N.C. A&T who over the next 50 seconds got two Boykins free throws and a Boykins three to get the lead down to one, 107-106 with 12.8 seconds showing on the clock. The Aggies had one more shot at winning or tying the game, but could not execute the out-of-bounds play.
N.C. A&T returns home for Senior Day as they face the Howard Bison 2 p.m., Saturday at Corbett Sports Center.