GREENSBORO - Utah Valley's inside combination of Nick Thompson and Ben Aird gave the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team fits in a 64-55 win at Corbett Sports Center Monday night. Thompson finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, while Aird had an 18-point, nine-rebound night. The Wolverines outrebounded the Aggies 37-28.
"I'm disappointed they beat us the boards," said A&T coach Cy Alexander. "I thought we defended them fairly well in the first half, but we only shot 28 percent. Those were shots they rebounded that I thought we should have made. But then we turn around and let them shoot much better in the second half. That was a combination we couldn't overcome."
The Aggies trailed 30-25 at the half, but held the Wolverines to 34.6 percent shooting. The Aggies had trouble scoring all night, but they still managed to take a 36-34 lead four minutes into the second half thanks to a jumper from the deep corner by Jean Louisme. Aird tied the game seconds later as he took a pass from Thompson from the high post. Aggies point guard Jeremy Underwood turned the ball back over to the Wolverines, leading to what Alexander thought was the turning point in the game.
The Wolverines (1-1) missed two consecutive 3-pointers, but grabbed the offensive board on both. Aird eventually scored on a layup. The sequence was a part of a 9-0 Wolverines run that gave them a 43-36 lead with 12:46 to play. They never trailed again. The Wolverines shot 52 percent in the second half.
"We were fighting uphill the rest of the way because of the way they run their offense," said Alexander. "They use all of the shot clock, so now every possession we get is magnified."
Aggies guard Lamont Middleton did get the Aggies to within five, 47-42, with six minutes to play. But the Wolverines returned to their high-low offense as Thompson and Aird scored on back-to-back baskets to increase the lead to nine. R.J. Buck broke the streak with a free throw, but layups by Jason Johnson and Aird gave the Wolverines a 55-43 lead, their biggest of the game.
"It was frustrating because we didn't communicate well enough in our matchup zone," Alexander said. "We didn't communicate nor did we react quick enough. That's not settling to me. We have to react because we know it's coming. We used our matchup zone the whole game. We're going to go back and see what we didn't do, correct it and apply it to Wright State."
Middleton led the Aggies with 23 points and five rebounds. The Aggies (1-1) will now play their next five games away from Greensboro, starting on Friday when they play at Wright State at 7 p.m.
"We have to improve our rebounding," said Alexander about the Aggies road trip. "I'm disappointed that our 6-3 second guard (Middleton) led us in rebounding. Middleton showed signs of being a very good basketball player. We also need to start understanding our roles, what type of shots we need to take and when we need to take them. We took ill-advised shots. We took the type of shots you take when you're up 15, and not shots you take when it's a two-point game."