GREENSBORO – It was always all about free throws Saturday night as several individual and team records were broken in North Carolina A&T’s 84-78 win over Florida A&M at Corbett Sports Center.
Lamont Middleton led the record-breaking charge with a career-high 35 points on 18-for-21 shooting at the free throw line. His 18 made free throws broke Glenn Taggart’s record of 17 set on Jan. 22, 1990. His 21 attempts snapped Claude Williams’ old record of 20 set in 1988.
All together A&T went 44-for-63 from the line, which also brought out the erasers. A&T’s 44 makes broke the old mark of 38 set against Winston-Salem State on Feb. 7, 1991. The oldest record broken Saturday night was in team attempts. The old mark of 55 was set in 1970 versus Johnson C. Smith.
The two teams combined to attempt 102 free throws, which broke the old Corbett record of 87 made in 1992 versus Arkansas State. In all, there were 61 personal fouls called on Saturday. More important than the free throw records is the Aggies (8-16, 4-5 MEAC) snapped a three-game losing streak .
“I’ve never been a part of a team that shot 63 free throws,” said Alexander. “That’s a testament to attacking the basket. That was one of our seven keys tonight – attack the rim. Lamont did it, (Richaud) Pack did it and Jeremy (Underwood) did it. Those are our primary ball handlers, so I give them all the credit.”
Pack was 11-for-15 from the line for 20 points and Underwood made 12 of his 14 free throws for 14 points.
A&T used free throw shooting to pull away from the Rattlers early in the second half. Five of the Aggies points during an 11-1 run came at the free throw line as A&T took a 55-42 lead three minutes into the half. Two Middleton free throws minutes later gave A&T a 65-47 lead, its biggest of the night with 10:08 to play.
The Aggies made 16 straight free throws from the 10-minute mark until Underwood missed the front end of a two-shot foul with 17 seconds remaining. The Aggies were 26-for-30 from the line in the second half. Despite A&T’s accurate foul shooting a Jamie Adams 3-pointer cut the Aggies lead to 75-69 with 2:27 remaining. After the made basket, the Rattlers applied pressure, forcing Bryan Akinkugbe to throw an errant pass that was intercepted by Bobby King. Jomari Bradshaw made A&T pay by hitting another three to cut the lead to three with two minutes to go.
Two Underwood free throws calmed things down a bit. Trey Kellum hit one of two free throws to make it a 77-73 game, but Kellum would also miss three crucial free throws that would have made a difference in the waning seconds. Meanwhile, the Aggies went 6-for-7 in the final minute of the game to secure the win.
“We’re just trying to get back on the right path,” said Middleton. “The last couple of games we’ve just thrown away. It’s been an up and down season, but from here on out, I’ve just told myself I’m going to be more aggressive with my teammates finding me and my coach running plays for me.”
Free throw shooting didn’t always go well for the Aggies.
“Our free throw shooting in the first half was horrendous,” said Alexander. “We only led by six at halftime and we should have been up double figures, at least 12.”
The Aggies were just 18-for-33 from the line in the first half. When you add that with the fact A&T got off to a slow start, the night could have been disastrous for the Aggies. FAMU jumped out to an 11-2 lead, but A&T went on a 9-0 run to tie the game. Middleton’s three gave A&T its biggest lead of the first half, 36-27, with 3:43 on the clock. Another Middleton three gave the Aggies a 42-36 halftime lead.
The Aggies changed up the starting lineup with freshman Khary Doby getting just his fifth start of the sesason and Steven Burrough making his third start. Burrough had seven points, five rebounds and four blocks in a season-high 27 minutes played.
The Aggies are back in action Monday night when they face Bethune-Cookman at 8 p.m.