NORFOLK, Va. – James Daniel hit a big shot in a game where few shots were made as eighth-seeded Howard ended ninth-seeded North Carolina A&T’s season with a 53-47 win at the 2014 MEAC Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament at Scope Arena.
Howard (8-24) will play the tournament’s top seed in N.C. Central, Wednesday evening at 6. The Aggies saw their season come to an end at 9-23.
Daniel, the MEAC Rookie of the Year, was just 2-for-11 from the field and 2-for-6 from 3-point range, finishing with nine points.
“We were focusing on him and all their shooters,” said A&T head coach Cy Alexander. “I thought we did a good job in that aspect. But he hit the big three, and that’s the one that counted.”
And much to A&T’s dismay, a lot of the free throws it attempted did not count toward points. A&T was 21-for-37 from the line with some of those misses coming late in the game. It did not help the Aggies’ cause to also shoot 21.6 percent from the floor.
“We shot 21 percent from the field, 18 percent from the three, 57 percent from the line, and with five minutes to go, we’ve got a one-point lead. Our kids were working but because we were so inept offensively, we didn’t achieve anything.”
The Aggies trailed 43-39 with six minutes to play. A&T freshman Denzel Keyes cut the lead two by tipping in a Lamont Middleton miss. On the Aggies next possession, senior point guard Jeremy Underwood spotted up from the top of the key and netted a 3-pointer to give A&T the 44-43 lead Alexander spoke of with 5:05 remaining. It was A&T’s first lead since the 7:33 mark of the first half.
Daniel then made consecutive crucial plays for the Bison. After a Howard timeout, Daniel drove baseline, drew three Aggie defenders and whipped a pass out to James Miller for an open 3-pointer to give Howard the lead back at 46-44. Middleton, who ended his collegiate career with 19 points and eight rebounds, gave A&T the lead back by grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring while being fouled on the play. His free throw gave A&T a 47-46 advantage with 2:33 to play.
But Daniel had an answer 20 seconds later as he took a cross-court pass from Prince Okoroh and launched his game-winning 3-pointer for the 49-47 Howard lead. A&T had three opportunities to tie or take the lead but missed two consecutive layups and Keyes was called for an offensive foul on the third opportunity.
“You don’t want it to end this way as a senior, losing in the first round to Howard, a team we thought we were capable of beating,” said Middleton.
Both teams struggled to score early. Howard didn’t score its first field goal until the 14:59 mark, while A&T’s first field goal came 35 seconds later, a 3-pointer from Middleton that tied the game at 8. The Aggies were not able to build a lead early because they went 5-for-11 from the line over the first 10 minutes of the game. Instead, the Bison and Aggies went through five lead changes before a Daniel free throw gave the Bison the lead for good in the first half.
Okoroh gave the Bison its biggest lead of the half, 24-20, with a layup from the baseline. A Richaud Pack free throw sent the Aggies into the locker room down 24-21 at the half. Okoroh led the Bison with 13 points, and Solomon Mangham scored 14 off the Bison bench. Daniel failed to score in double figures for the first time this season but made the shot of the game.