GREENSBORO (January 27, 2018) – Was it Aggie Pride that brought the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team back from a 17-point deficit to knock off archrival North Carolina Central 70-64 at Corbett Sports Center Saturday evening? N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner didn’t officially label it that. He used the word “pride”, but since this was Aggie-Eagle let’s take some liberties.
“You’re down 17 with over 6,000 fans in your building, at that point you’re just trying to get guys back on track,” said Joyner. “You can’t lose to your rival by 20-plus points in your own gym. That’s embarrassing. It was really about pride the rest of the way.”
When the Eagles went inside for a Raasean Davis for a turnaround jumper, the Eagles led 50-33 with 12:45 remaining in the game. Joyner, like he is known to do, went to his bench to find someone on his bench who was willing to work hard. And as is usually the case with the 2017-18 Aggies, there is no telling who might emerge from that bench to make major contributions.
On Saturday the names were Milik Gantz and Denzel Keyes. Keyes opened the Aggies come back with a short jumper in the lane. Gantz then scored off a Kameron Langley still to cut the Eagles lead to 50-37. The Aggies eventually cut the Eagles lead to 11, 52-41, on two Keyes free throws. A 3-pointer from NCCU’s Reggie Gardner Jr., slowed down the Aggies momentum. But the Aggies would run off the next 11 points highlighted by a Gantz layup, a Devonte Boykins 3-pointer and a baseline jumper from Keyes to cut the Eagles lead to 55-51 with 6:46 to play.
“I am about working hard. I have had success working hard. I’m not going to deviate from it,” said Joyner as he began to explain why he has no problem going to his bench for help. “If you’re not playing hard, it’s unfair to the other individuals who show up to practice every single day and bust their tails to not at least have a chance to go out there and prove they belong on the court as well.”
N.C. A&T’s hard work and missed free throws by the Eagles kept the Aggies momentum going. Larry McKnight Jr., made one of two free throws to put NCCU ahead 56-51. But Keyes took a Gantz pass and scored again to put the Aggies down three, 56-53. The Eagles made one out of two free throws again, leading to a huge Langley 3-pointer to cut the Eagles lead to 57-56 with 5 ½ minutes to play. It was only Langley’s fourth made three all season.
“I had ice in my veins,” Langley joked. “It was a confidence thing for me. My teammates are always telling to shoot it when I’m open, so I just their advice and took the open shot and made it.”
Two-and-half minutes later, Boykins gave the Aggies the lead at 59-58 on a 3-pointer with 4:09 to play. The Eagles (11-10, 5-2 MEAC) never saw the lead again. Langley hit two free throws and Keyes followed with a steal and a runner in the lane on the break to put the Aggies up five, 63-58 with 2:45 to play. The Eagles cut it to three on a Pablo Rivas jumper, but Boykins helped the Aggies answer by finding a wide-open Langley underneath the basket for an easy layup.
With 23 seconds remaining, the Eagles cut the lead to 67-64 on a Jordan Perkins 3-pointer. But Langley hit two free throws to seal the win. The Aggies shot 58.6 percent in the second half and 49 percent for the game.
“This game was crazy,” said Langley. “This is my first A&T-Central game and being a part of this rivalry. Before the game my teammates tried to tell me, but I thought the game wasn’t going to live up to the hype. But it was hype.”
Keyes led the Aggies with 20 points off the bench. Gantz had eight. Langley finished in double figures with 13 points, while Boykins went 3-for-6 from 3-point range to score 11 points. Davis led the Eagles with 15 points.
After the teams went into the locker room tied at 28, the Eagles opened the second half on a 20-3 run to take their 17-point lead. The Aggies improved to 13-9 overall and 6-1 in the MEAC and are tied for first place with Savannah State for first place in the MEAC. The Aggies will try to stay on top of the league with a 4 p.m., Saturday home game against Hampton. N.C. A&T is 8-0 at home this season.
“We have depth and that's one of the fortunate things we have going for us,” said Joyner. “it could be anyone on any given night. The only thing I ask is are you going to play hard? It is about sending the right message to the body. We're building something special here, and it's going to be built through hard work. I'm not going away from that. Tonight, I was trying to motivate the guys and a light a fire underneath the team.”
And show a little Aggie Pride in the process.