GREENSBORO – With everyone holding their collective breaths at Corbett Sports Center Monday night, Lamont Middleton’s catch and shoot 3-point attempt at the buzzer rattled in and came out as Bethune-Cookman held on for a 72-71 men’s basketball win.
“It felt good. It looked good. It just didn’t drop,” said Middleton about his fade away attempt.
One minute earlier it didn’t look like Middleton would get a chance to win the game. Senior point guard Jeremy Underwood missed a 3-point shot from the top of the key. The long rebound led to a transition basket for Clemmye Owens to give the Wildcats a 71-66 lead with 1:08 to play.
But it was Underwood who found a wide open Richaud Pack in the corner for a 3-pointer that cut the Wildcats lead to two 10 seconds later. After a B-CU timeout, Wildcats guard Tony Kynard made the mistake of throwing the ball into the backcourt, which gave the Aggies (8-17, 4-6 MEAC) the ball back with 27 seconds remaining.
Middleton then made an aggressive move toward the basket, pulled up at the free throw line and was fouled on the arm by Owens. Middleton tied the game at 71 with two free throws with 10 seconds remaining. As the Wildcats advanced the ball following the made foul shots, Aggies forward Waylan Siverand tried to step in and draw a charge from Kynard. But the referee determined that Siverand didn’t get there in time and called him for the block.
Kynard was hurt on the play and had to leave the game. By rule, the Aggies were able to pick the Wildcats foul shooter from any player currently in the game. Instead of the 80 percent free-throw shooting Kynard at the line, the Aggies sent 70 percent free throw shooter Travis Elliott. Elliott made one of two free throws with eight seconds remaining to give B-CU a 72-71 lead.
With no timeouts, the Aggies quickly advanced the ball up the floor. The ball eventually was put in the hands of Pack, but he had the ball knocked out of bounds on his attempt, leaving the Aggies with just 1.8 seconds to score. The ball was thrown in to Siverand who immediately chucked the ball to Middleton for the game-winning attempt.
“It shouldn’t have come down to a last shot,” said Middleton. “If we would have stayed focused on defense in the second half, we would have come away with a W. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t.”
Malik Jackson and Owens had 16 apiece to lead the Wildcats (6-21, 4-8 MEAC). Pack led the Aggies with 28 points on 4-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Middleton added 21, but it was on the defensive end where the game slipped away from A&T. The Wildcats shot 58 percent in the second half as dribble penetration led to layups and 28 second-half points in the paint.
“That’s totally unacceptable,” said A&T head coach Cy Alexander about the Wildcats field goal percentage in the second half. “I thought our defensive effort was horrendous in the second half. I don’t know what I have to do to make our young people understand how hard you have to play on the defensive end.”
What perhaps has Alexander even more puzzled is that the Aggies were good defensively in the first half. They held the Wildcats 37 percent shooting and took a 30-22 lead at halftime. The Wildcats erased the Aggies lead five minutes into the second half as Elliott scored on a layup to give the Wildcats a 33-32 lead. That lead would balloon to 10 twice, the last double-digit lead coming at 55-45 with 9:24 remaining.
A 3-point play by Middleton and a 3-pointer by Pack helped the Aggies cut the lead to three at 59-56 with 6:36 to play. The game would remain tight as a Middleton free throw made it 62-59 at the 5:19 mark. But a technical foul on the Aggies gave the Wildcats two free throws and the ball. The four consecutive points and a layup from Owens gave the Wildcats a 68-59 lead with 4:07 remaining. Two Pack free throws, a Pack 3-pointer and a reverse layup from Siverand were a part of a 7-0 Aggies run that set up the end-game excitement.
“I thought our young men let up mentally,” said Alexander. “(The Wildcats) were a lot more aggressive in the second half. We played as if the game was over.”
The Aggies are back in action Saturday when they travel to Savannah, Ga., to face Savannah State at 6 p.m.