GREENSBORO - On Senior Day at Corbett Sports Center Saturday, the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team came out specially designed SWAT team t-shirts with senior forward Austin Witter's nickname (Witt) and jersey number on the back.
Sparked by another dominating Witter performance that resulted in him breaking the school's single-season blocked shots record with his 86th swat of the season, the Aggies avenged an earlier loss this season to S.C. State, with a convincing 58-35 win.
The Aggies (14-15, 7-7 MEAC) turned a five-point halftime lead into a rout by holding S.C. State (5-22, 1-13) scoreless for nearly six minutes as they rolled on a 14-0 spurt. Jean Louisme hit consecutive 3-pointers, and then fed Witter on an alley-oop dunk. Adrian Powell found Bruce Beckford open for a layup on the next offensive possession, then finished a fast break with a dunk to give the home team a 39-22 lead. The lead grew to as much as 24 before the teams emptied their benches.
S.C. State scored just 15 points in the second half, in which they made 4 of 25 attempts (16 percent) from the floor. The Bulldogs also had 24 turnovers, which led to 18 A&T points. No Bulldog scored more than seven points. This is the fourth time this season an Aggies opponent has not cracked the 45-point mark.
"We were able to execute our defensive game plan today," said A&T head coach Cy Alexander. "South Carolina State has some guys that can score the basketball and we found that out the hard way last month. We had to get this one today, not only for our seniors, but to start the month of March in a rhythm as we get ready for the (MEAC) tournament."
Witter, who entered the game needing just four blocks to become the school's all-time leader, settled that when he rejected a jump shot in the lane by Matthew Hezekiah with 9:17 left to play. The block helped him surpass Thomas Coleman, who blocked 85 shots during the 2008-09 season.
The t-shirts, which were designed by trainer Tara Serafino, were created to honor Witter and his dedication to blocking shots, a skill that even took him by surprise this season. "I really don't know how I get to some of the shots," Witter remarked. "I learned by watching Thomas Coleman do his work in the paint, and eventually, I got the timing down."
Coach Alexander offered a different perspective.
"Austin has saved us this season," he said. "His ability to block shots has made up for our defensive mistakes this year. He is our last line of defense, and we will sorely miss that next year, or until we find another one who can do that. He's been an integral part of our defensive scheme because he has a gift of timing and can get off the floor very quickly. We have been ranked among the top 30 in the nation in field goal defense most of the year, and he is a big part of that."
Besides Witter, the Aggies paid homage to six more seniors - Adrian Powell, Lawrence Smith, R.J. Buck, Dominique Behohn-Tolly, Jean Louisme and DaMetrius Upchurch. Five of the seven Aggie seniors scored, while the underclassmen tandem of Jeremy Underwood and Bruce Beckford combined for 18 points.
"Senior Night is an emotional night for everybody," said Louisme, who led all scorers with 15 points. "Coach told us that we only remember Senior Night when it comes to our career, so first of all you have to win the game. We played our hearts out and got this W."
The final home game of the season is Monday night at Corbett Sports Center as the Aggies will host Savannah State in a game that will be carried live on ESPNU as part of the MEAC TV package. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m.