EAST GREENSBORO (November 6, 2018) –UNC Greensboro knows what it has. North Carolina A&T is still trying to figure it out. That perhaps was the biggest difference in the UNCG Spartans coming out on top in the battle of Greensboro’s two Division I men’s basketball programs, 74-66 in front of thousands of N.C. A&T and UNCG students gathered at Corbett Sports Tuesday.
It was the season opener for both schools. Even though the season is new, UNCG is not new to each other. The Spartans return seven players from a team that won 27 games last season, won the SoCon regular -season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
The Aggies were not too shabby last season either. They won 20 games and reached the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. But the Aggies only return two players who earned significant playing time last season. The Aggies have plenty of junior college and graduate transfers, but during some crucial second-half moments, the team with more experience with one another appeared to have a slight edge over the team that has experienced players.
“I’m not into making excuses but UNCG is a well-oiled machine,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “I give my team an ‘A’ for effort because they really tried to execute the game plan. Not having enough experience together makes things hard. When you’re trying to mesh talent together this early you’re not going to know who is going to give you the best chance to win the battle on the boards. That’s going to be trial and error for us.”
UNCG outrebounded the Aggies 42-32 and outscored them by seven in second-chance points. Yet, the newly-formed Aggies held their own against a team who has been playing together longer. N.C. A&T led by one at the half, 39-38. They only had three first-half turnovers. They perhaps would have led by more but were just 5-for-12 from the line over the first 20 minutes.
“Fortunately for us it is only the first game,” said Joyner. “Even though it was a loss, it was best for us to open against someone like UNCG so that we can see where our program is at this point. We need a little more maturity and a little more discipline, but that is going to come.”
N.C. A&T held UNCG, a protenant 3-point shooting team, to 3-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc. But UNCG made the timely team plays the Aggies hope to make as they get more time to together. They opened the second half on a 9-2 run to take a 48-41 lead. They never relinquished the lead again.
An emphatic dunk by UNCG’s Isaiah Miller gave the Spartans a 52-43 lead. Graduate forward Terry Harris answered the potential momentum-swinging dunk with a 3-pointer. The Aggies were not so fortunate on Miller’s second dunk, where he went baseline to please the UNCG contingent. The slam gave UNCG a 56-48 advantage and it appeared to be the impetus behind a 10-2 run that gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the night, 64-50, with 7:16 remaining in the game.
A layup from graduate center Ibrahim Sylla cut the Spartans lead to seven, 64-57, with 4:49 to play. But the Spartans scored the next six points to get some comfort late. “We were 9-for-21 from the free throw line and we lost by eight points out of the gate. That tells me we have enough talent to be really good this year,” said Joyner. “We have some work to do, but I think we’ll get there. We just have to rebound.”
N.C. A&T will head a few miles down I-40 to face Wake Forest 2 p.m., Saturday at the Joel Coliseum. The Aggies were led Tuesday by junior Qua Copeland who finished with 13 points. Sylla was 6-for-7 from the floor and finished with 12.