ORANGEBURG, S.C. – An injury-riddled North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team took the players it had and battled S.C. State to a 75-70 overtime loss at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center Monday night.
The Aggies (8-19, 4-8 MEAC) lost their third straight after having to play without senior point guard Jeremy Underwood and reserve forwards Jerome Simmons and Maurice Taylor. At the 10:06 mark of the first half, leading scorer Richaud Pack had to leave the game with a knee injury. He never returned.
Down the stretch the Aggies had to play with freshmen Denzel Keyes and Khary Doby and walk-on sophomore point guard Ahmad Abdullah. It was Abdullah’s 3-pointer with 3:17 remaining in regulation that pulled the Aggies to within one at 57-56. Two Lamont Middleton free throws gave the Aggies a 58-57 advantage, their first since the 17:55 mark of the second half.
A steal and layup by Middleton put the Aggies up three. After a defensive stop, Keyes put the Aggies up 62-57 with a slashing move to the basket with 59.8 seconds remaining. Keyes was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw, which led to a transition opportunity for the Bulldogs. Greg Mortimer knocked down the transition three and was fouled by Middleton. Mortimer completed the 4-point play to move the Bulldogs to within one.
On the Aggies next possession, Middleton would slip and fall, turning the ball over on a traveling call. Bulldogs center Matthew Hezekiah took advantage by scoring in the post to give SCSU a 63-62 lead. Darryl Palmer extended the lead to two with a free throw. With 5.7 seconds remaining, Middleton raced the ball up the floor to tie the game. He was fouled with four-tenths of a second left.
Middleton, who finished with 24 points on 13-for-17 shooting at the free throw line, hit both free throws to send the game into overtime.
“I commend our young men because they gave it all they had,” said A&T head coach Cy Alexander. “We had four or five guys injured. If we can get everyone healthy, regardless of what I record is, I like our chances going into the MEAC tournament because we competed tonight.”
Mortimer broke the game open in overtime when he got a screen from Palmer and popped open for a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 71-68 lead with 2:19 remaining. A long ricochet on a missed 3-pointer by Doby led to a fastbreak layup for Darron Eastmon that gave the Bulldogs a comfortable 5-point advantage with 15 seconds to go.
“Even though it was an ‘L’ tonight, we can get back on the bus knowing there was growth tonight,” said Alexander. “Any time your team lays on the line for you, as a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”
Middleton added eight rebounds, four assists and just one turnover to his totals. Bruce Beckford added 12 and Keyes had seven points and four rebounds on 3-for-4 shooting. Hezekiah led the Bulldogs (9-16, 5-7 MEAC) with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
When Pack left the game the Aggies led by one, 16-15. A Doby 3-pointer extended that lead to 28-24 with 3:33 remaining in the first half. An Adama Adams three gave the Bulldogs a 30-29 lead, but Keyes took it back for A&T with a 3-pointer that gave A&T a 32-30 halftime lead.
“We were so undermanned tonight it wasn’t even funny,” said Alexander. “I thought Keyes and Ahmad played well. This was their first extensive, gut-wrenching playing time of their careers, so you can’t be too negative about how they played. They showed us tonight that they should be an option for us going forward.”
The Aggies host archrival and the league’s top team, N.C. Central, at Corbett Sports Center on Saturday. The tip is at 6 p.m.
On Saturday A&T puts its six-game winning streak on the line when they welcoming in archrival N.C. Central to Corbett Sports Center at 4 p.m. The Aggies have never lost to the Eagles since NCCU joined the conference in 2011.