GREENSBORO - A little pain and some discipline can still translate into victory with the right attitude. At least that is what the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team proved with its 81-77 win over Radford on Wednesday night at Corbett Sports Center.
A&T came into the game with two players playing with bad backs in junior guard Lamont Middleton and freshman center Bruce Beckford. Reserve center DaMetrius Upchurch has been playing with a broken nose and backup forward Waylan Siverand has a bruised hand. In addition to those bumps and bruises, forward Lawrence Smith and guards Jeremy Underwood and Khalid King were suspended for violating team rules.
Banged up and missing some key members of the team, each Aggie starter played more than 30 minutes for the first time this season. Freshman guard Shaun Stewart saw his first action in more than a month, and senior guard R.J. Buck also picked up some vital minutes. Those dynamics and clutch free throw shooting in the final minutes of the game helped the Aggies (6-9) snap a two-game losing streak that stemmed from a road trip of cancelled flights and long bus rides.
"No excuses, no explanations," Alexander said he told the team prior to Wednesday's game. "If you want to play, this is your chance. It's all about the next man stepping up."
Four of the five Aggie starters scored in double figures as Middleton recorded his fourth game of 20-plus points with 21 on 9-for-11 shooting from the free throw line. Adrian Powell added 20 points and five rebounds, and Beckford came away with 15 points and a career-high nine rebounds. Senior forward Austin Witter continued his superb all-around play with 10 points, eight assists, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
"We did a good job of scoring the ball today," said Alexander about an Aggies team that shot 59 percent from the field in the second half. "They went through a moment in the game where they couldn't score it, but we stayed pretty consistent throughout. I thought that made a huge difference in the game. If we can keep playing offense like this and hit our free throws, we'll be okay."
A&T stretched its lead to as many as 12 in the second half before a Ya Ya Anderson 3-pointer closed out a 14-4 Highlanders run that pulled them to within two, 67-65, with six minutes remaining. Two Jean Louisme free throws slowed down Radford's momentum for a moment. But Brandon Holcomb's layup put the Highlanders down two again, and when Beckford missed a 15-footer from the baseline, Radford's Javonte Green grabbed the rebound, giving the Highlanders a chance to tie the game.
But an Adrian Powell block led to an Aggies fastbreak and a dunk by Bedford. Powell followed up that strong defensive play with a steal and a layup to push the Aggies lead to 73-67 with 2:20 to play. The Highlanders never got any closer than four the rest of the way as the Aggies went 4-for-6 from the free throw line in the last 90 seconds to secure the win. Three of those free throws were made by Middleton.
"I give all our guys (who played) credit for stepping up and playing their roles," said Alexander. "Middleton is a young man who can't even practice because of his back. For him to come out here and make some crucial free throws in the clutch, you have to give him credit. It was also good to see Shaun Stewart come in and play some valuable minutes for us."
Radford (6-8) was led Anderson's 21 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. A&T led by as many as eight in the first half, but a Blake Smith jumper gave the Highlanders a 28-27 lead 2 ½ minutes to play. Witter secured the Aggies third straight halftime lead as banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key. But unlike the Aggies' previous two games, they were able to sustain this halftime lead.
The Aggies will return to the road with their aches and pains in an attempt to secure a win before conference play. The Aggies will face Georgia Southern at 7 p.m., in Statesboro, Ga., on Saturday.
"There is pain and then there are injuries," Alexander said. "We've got some guys with some pains, but they're not injured. We have to go down to Georgia Southern with the mindset of playing really good basketball. We have to go into their place with the mindset of we're going to play 40 minutes of solid basketball."