DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. – The Bethune-Cookman men’s basketball team tried to hold on to tradition as long as it could Saturday evening. But North Carolina A&T finally brought about change with a 70-67 win over the Wildcats at Moore Gymnasium.
The Aggies (4-11, 1-0) win marked the first time in 19 years the Aggies won a game in Daytona Beach. It ended a 16-game losing streak to the Wildcats in their home city. The Aggies also won for the first time in six games.
“I’m happy for the young men, I’m happy for the coaching staff and I’m happy for North Carolina A&T as a whole,” said A&T head coach Cy Alexander, who is 23-1 against B-CU in his career. “Our plan all along was to try to get through the non-conference and see if we can’t get off to a 1-0 start in a tough place to play. It’s been exceptionally tough for North Carolina A&T over the years to win here, so I’m glad this group of guys was able to do so.”
A&T was headed to ending the streak without much stress. The Aggies led 58-44 with 6:08 remaining in the game. The Wildcats (2-16, 0-1) kept pressuring the Aggies hoping to make a run. It finally started giving the Aggies fits with 3 ½ minutes remaining. The Aggies turned the ball over on three straight possessions, and the Wildcats scored on all three to cut A&T’s lead to 64-58 with 1:16 to play.
Things looked to get even tighter when senior A&T guard Jeremy Underwood fouled Tony Kynard on a three-pointer, sending the freshman guard to the line for three shots. But Kynard made just one of three with the Aggies Bruce Beckford grabbing the third miss. After Richaud Pack hit two free throws to put the Aggies ahead 66-59, Kynard did connect on two free throws to cut it to five with 33 seconds remaining.
The Wildcats’ pressure caused another Aggies turnover, which quickly translated to B-CU’s Mikel Trapp getting out in transition and knocking down a three to slice the Aggies’ lead to 66-64.
“We’ve got to be discipline and run our stuff,” said Alexander. “Let the system work for you. Don’t be a super hero and dribble through three or four people, just let the system work. If the system doesn’t work then that’s my fault. But the system is tried and proven.”
Underwood would settle the Aggies for just a moment as he hit two free throws to push the lead to 68-64 with 27 seconds to play. Twelve seconds later, he had a chance to put the Wildcats away for good but missed two free throws leading to a Clemmye Owens 3-pointer that cut A&T’s lead to one with 6.5 seconds remaining. After Barry Smith fouled Lamont Middleton, Middleton knocked down two free throws to put A&T up three.
Kynard threw the ensuing inbounds pass into the arms of Middleton to give A&T its fifth straight win over a conference opponent, dating back to last season’s MEAC tournament.
“I feel like our young men had to grind,” said Alexander. “They had to make two or three big shots down the stretch, they also made some big free throws and we executed late. And I thought we played hard.”
Middleton led the Aggies with 21 points. Underwood scored 13 points and had four assists, while Beckford secured a game-high 11 rebounds. Pack had 19 for the Aggies on 10-for-10 shooting from the free throw line. A&T was 29-for-33 from the line for the game.
“That was our game plan,” said Alexander, after handing the Wildcats their 14th straight loss. “We wanted to attack off the dribble because we felt like we had a slight size advantage.”
The Aggies led throughout most of the game. They had a 14-point first half lead and led 35-24 at the half. But the Wildcats had that lead down to three, 40-37, over the first seven minutes of the second half before the Aggies went on another run to extend the lead back to 14.
A&T will try to complete the Florida sweep on Monday when they face Florida A&M in Tallahassee at 8 p.m. A&T hasn’t won both Florida road games since 1995.
“Any time you can win a conference game on the road, it’s huge,” said Alexander.