LUBBOCK, Texas -- North Carolina A&T had nine days to prepare for Big 12 foe Texas Tech. But Friday night's game at United Spirit Arena had very little to do with strategy and a lot to do with effort.
The Red Raiders held off A&T's upset bid with an 85-74 win thanks to what was a complete mismatch on the glass. A&T (5-8) was outrebounded 49-22. Texas Tech's mastery on the glass received an exclamation point at night's end when the Red Raiders finished with more offensive rebounds (23) than the Aggies had total rebounds.
Jay Crockett, who leads the Red Raiders in scoring and rebounding, led the way with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Center Dejan Kravic and guard Dusty Hannahs added 22 and 21 respectively for the Red Raiders (6-4). A&T placed four players in double figures led by a career-high 18 from senior guard Jean Louisme. Forward Adrian Powell had 16. Lamont Middleton finished with 15 points and six assists, and Austin Witter added 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"They outworked us on the glass. That was the difference, plain and simple," said A&T men's basketball coach Cy Alexander. "I look out our frontline, and I don't see the effort. The only one who showed up on the glass was Austin Witter. Everybody else was missing in action."
Rebounding helped the Red Raiders erase the Aggies 43-37 halftime lead within the first six minutes of the second half as a Hannahs jumper gave his team a 49-47 lead. Ten of the Red Raiders first 12 points of the second half came on second-chance opportunities. By the 8:45 mark of the second half, the Red Raiders had outscored the Aggies 26-6 in the second half to take a 63-49 lead.
A&T did not rollover. Twelve minutes into the second half, Alexander turned to two players he had not played all night. Senior Dominique Behohn-Tolly and freshman guard Khalid King provided the Aggies with the spark they needed. Behohn-Tolly's turnaround jumper in the lane and King's 3-pointer from the corner ignited a 15-2 Aggies run as Middleton capped it off with a 3-pointer that pulled the Aggies to within one, 65-64.
But two Kravic's layups underneath the basket and Hannahs three helped the Red Raiders rebuild their lead. When Hannahs completed a 3-point play set up by a Daylen Robinson steal, Texas Tech had a double-figure lead, 77-66, once again. With less than four minutes remaining, the Aggies would not be able to recover.
"I told our guys this was a team looking to get well against us, a school from the MEAC" said Alexander. "And whenever you're playing against a team from a major Division I conference, the Big 12, Pac 12, Big East, ACC, whatever the case may be - you have to step up your physicality. This game was not about X's and O's. It was about physical toughness on the glass. We didn't have it and they did."
A&T's lack of rebounding leaves open the question, what if? The curiosity is there because for a majority of the first half, the Aggies led. In fact, Louisme's 3-pointer with 2:30 remaining in the first half gave the Aggies a 38-26 lead.
A Kader Tapsoba dunk cut capped off a 5-0 run by the Red Raiders, but Witter moved the lead back into double figures, 41-31, with a 3-pointer from the right elbow. But Hannahs hit two 3-pointers in between a Middleton jumper to cut the Aggies lead to six at the half.
The Aggies took advantage of making nine first-half 3-pointers to earn their halftime lead.
"You can't expect outside shots to fall for 40 minutes because your legs wear down," said Alexander. "What you do expect is your physical toughness and your effort level to stay the same. We allowed them to shoot 57 percent in the second half and a lot of that was second-chance points. They scored 17 quick points in the second half. A lot of those were, 'I just want the ball more than you do, get out of my way.'"
A&T will try to rebound as they head to the west coast to face CSU Bakersfield Sunday afternoon at 4.