GREENSBORO - North Carolina A&T junior point guard Jeremy Underwood says he does have a message for UNC Greensboro men's basketball players he sees in the mall, the barbershop or in various other spots around the city of Greensboro.
"I would just tell them, hey, Aggie Pride, and I would tell them that I think we are Greensboro's team," said Underwood.
For the third straight year, Underwood and five of his other teammates enjoyed a win over the other Division I basketball school in Greensboro. This time the Aggies made a season-best 34 free throws on their way to a 90-79 win Wednesday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. Every win over UNCG over the past three seasons has been by double figures.
Underwood came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points on 12-for-14 shooting from the free throw line. Junior guard Lamont Middleton chipped in with a season-high 24 points as he went 9-for-11 from the line. Freshman Bruce Beckford also scored in double figures with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field.
"We went through adversity, we stayed together, we were poised and we hit our free throws," said Underwood. "Most of all, we played with heart."
A&T (3-5) led by 12 at the half and by as many as 16 in the second half. The lead was 71-56 with 4:29 remaining in the game. The Spartans (1-5) used pressure defense and A&T turnovers to cut the lead to seven, 76-69, thanks to a 3-point play by Trevis Simpson with 2:16 remaining in the game.
A&T head coach Cy Alexander called a timeout and reminded his team of its most recent game in Las Vegas against Jacksonville State. The Aggies lost a five-point lead late and eventually lost in overtime. Alexander encouraged the Aggies to use the lesson learned from that ordeal to help them persevere Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
They responded by clinching the win at the line. The Aggies hit 11 of 12 free throws over the final two minutes of the game. A Middleton fastbreak dunk in between all the free throws made the victory even sweeter.
"We were able to stay mentally focused during UNCG's various runs," said Alexander. "We stayed positive, and we continued to execute the game plan. This is a big step in the development of our basketball team because this is a very good UNCG team we beat tonight. They're well coached, they have two excellent scorers and they have nice size in the post. They're going to do very, very well in the Southern Conference this season."
Alexander said A&T's game plan centered on making guards Derrell Armstrong and Simpson work hard for every shot. The Aggies double teamed and blitzed both men off screens when necessary. The result was the Aggies holding a UNCG team that shot 43 percent and 42 percent respectively against Virginia Tech and Rutgers, to just 31 percent shooting on Wednesday. Simpson had 17 and Armstrong finished with 11 points on 0-for-3 shooting from 3-point range.
"I think by focusing on those two young men (Simpson and Armstrong), we threw them off their rhythm," said Alexander.
While the Aggies have the bragging rights in Greensboro for another year, this was only phase one of rivalry week for A&T. The Aggies must now face archrival N.C. Central at home on Saturday. Tip is 4 p.m.
"What I found out tonight is that these young men are growing. It's a process. We must first learn how to win. Then we must learn how to win a championship. This was a big step in a maturation process as we get ready for our first meaningful game...at home...against...North Carolina Central University," Alexander said.