TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Although the lettering was in pink, the message on the dry erase board awaiting the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team as it walked in for breakfast Monday morning could not have been clearer and come across anymore masculine.
Before his men walked in, Alexander wrote: "Compete harder than FAMU. Play with upper Division I level intensity."
He got what he wanted Monday night as the Aggies came away with a convincing 68-40 win over Florida A&M at the Al Lawson Center. The win gave A&T (8-10, 1-2 MEAC) its first conference win of the season. It also marked just the second time since the shot clock era began (1985-86), the Aggies have held a conference opponent to 40 points or less. In victory, the Aggies also put together their largest blowout road win of a conference opponent since beating Delaware State in Dover, Del., 94-61 on Feb. 8, 1988.
"We've been talking about competing harder lately," Alexander said. "When (my team) sees a Seton Hall or a Texas Tech on the schedule, they know there is a certain level of intensity they must play at in order to be competitive. That's the reason you play those teams, so you can learn how to play at that level. We need to bring that level of intensity to our league play. This is the first game that we actually did that. Hopefully, the guys can see the result of that, and we can build on it."
Alexander was adamant about the Aggies winning on Monday because an 0-3 start in the conference would have made it difficult for the Aggies to win the MEAC regular-season title. Plus, a win gives the Aggies momentum as they had into a stretch where they play three straight at Corbett Sports Center, starting on Saturday when they face Howard at 4 p.m.
The Aggies got themselves back into contention with defense. The Aggies held FAMU to 22.8 percent shooting, including a 1-for-16 showing from 3-point range. The Aggies remained stingy despite having to go to their bench early. Within the first 10 minutes of the game, four Aggies had two fouls and senior DaMetrius Upchurch picked us third with 8:45 remaining in the first half.
Alexander turned to players he hasn't played in multiple games such as sophomore forward Waylan Siverand and freshman guards Shaun Stewart and Khalid King. The result remained the same. The Aggies gave the Rattlers the scoreless treatment.
"Putting Waylan in there gives us an athletic post player going into the meat of our conference schedule," Alexander said.
FAMU's Jamari Bradshaw pulled the Rattlers to within five, 14-9, with 7:01 remaining in the first half. The Rattlers would go another six minutes without a field goal. When Muhammad Abdul-Aleem putback his own rebound at the buzzer the Aggies held a 23-13 halftime lead. It is the fewest points a MEAC school has scored against the Aggies in a half since Morgan State scored just eight points in Jan. 9, 1993.
The Rattlers shot just 16 percent in the first half. "Our defensive scheme caused them to take a few quick shots," said Alexander. "Obviously any time you hold a team to 16 percent shooting in a half, it's very good. The way we played on the defensive end got us some transition points."
As the Rattlers continued to struggle offensively in the second half, A&T grew its lead to 38-15 four minutes into the second half as Adrian Powell hit two free throws. The closest the Rattlers were able to close the lead was 17, 45-28, as Abdul-Aleem scored on a layup with 10:08 remaining.
Lamont Middleton led A&T with 18 points and seven rebounds. Powell added 14 points and four assists. Abdul-Aleem led the Rattlers (4-13, 1-2 MEAC) with nine.
"We're back in the race so to speak. So we just need to return home and keep our same intensity," said Alexander.