BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A winter storm that occurred more than 2,000 miles away from the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team's road trip this week didn't do the Aggies any favors.
After having two of their flights cancelled, the Aggies dropped their second straight game with a 60-52 loss to CSU Bakersfield Sunday evening at Robobank Arena. Austin Witter led the Aggies with 11 points and six blocks, while senior guard Lamont Middleton added 12 points and seven rebounds.
"I think all the problems with our travel had an adverse effect on our play," said A&T head coach Cy Alexander. "We simply played the worst half we've played all year, and I've got to believe our travel problems were a big part of it."
The Aggies (5-9) have had problems getting to their destinations this week, which may coincide with them giving up two halftime leads and being outrebounded tremendously during the week.
A&T's initial flight out of Greensboro on Thursday was cancelled because of inclement weather in the Northeast. A&T then had to travel 90 minutes to Charlotte, take a flight to Houston and then try to schedule the first available flight to Lubbock, Texas. Once in Lubbock on Friday, the Aggies were outrebounded 49-22 and surrendered a six-point halftime lead that was 12 at one point in the first half.
Four hours after losing to the Red Raiders, the Aggies discovered their flight to Los Angeles was cancelled, forcing the Aggies to drive five hours to Albuquerque, N.M., to take a flight to L.A., where they then had to drive two hours to Bakersfield.
Despite the travel woes, the Aggies held a 30-23 halftime lead over CSUB. But by the end of the night, the Roadrunners held a 42-31 advantage on the glass.
"This was a team that only had 18 rebounds just last night," said Alexander about CSU Bakersfield 's loss to Loyola Marymount Saturday night. "We've got to come in and fix our rebounding issues. Yes, we had a tough go of it this week, but with seven seniors we should be able to handle adversity. This is the second straight where I felt like we as a team got complacent after halftime."
A&T's second half deficiency really showed up at the free throw line during the second 20 minutes of the game. The Aggies made just 7 of 21 free throws in the second half and were 9-for-25 for the game. Poor free throw shooting coupled with hot outside shooting from Runners guard Javante Maynor helped CSUB take a 54-41 lead with two free throws from Brandon Barnes.
Maynor finished with 19 points on five 3-pointers for the Runners (6-10).
A&T senior guard R.J. Buck helped the Aggies offense score just their third field goal of the half as his 3-pointer from the corner pulled the Aggies to within 10. Middleton post up move and layup cut the lead to eight before Maynor hit a 15-footer from the elbow to push the lead back to 10 at 56-46 with 2:31 to play.
One more run was still left in the Aggies as Middleton hit consecutive layups to slice the Runners lead to six. The latter of Middleton's layup was accompanied by a foul from Tyrone White with 2:01 remaining. But Middleton, who is one of the best free throw shooters in the MEAC, missed an opportunity to complete the 3-point play. It summarized the Aggies day in the Golden State.
"We've got to get tougher physically and mentally," said Alexander. "When you miss that many free throws, you're not there mentally. But we're going to get this fixed by the time January 12 (the Aggies first conference game after the New Year) rolls around, and we're going to start by getting ready for Radford."
The Aggies plan to be back in Greensboro before 2013 arrives if everything goes according to plan this time. They will then face Radford 7 p.m., Wednesday at Corbett Sports Center.