GREENSOBORO – Saturday night mirrored the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball season because it was a night where the little details made a big difference. Savannah State handed the Aggies their fifth straight loss with a 71-67 overtime victory at Corbett Sports Center.
Before the game the Aggies honored seniors Jeremey Underwood and Lamont Middleton. Middleton had 23 points and broke Joe Binion’s 1983-84 school single-season free throw attempts record with his 248th at the 5:40 mark of the first half.
Underwood had 10 points and five assists, and for a minute there was a lot of promise for the night to end positively for the two guards.
A&T led 59-57 thanks to two Middleton free throws with 41 seconds to play. On Savannah State’s next possession, the Aggies forced Jeremiah Hill into a tough 3-point shot from the corner. Their defensive efforts were spoiled when Hikeem Champaigne grabbed the offensive board and dished out to a wide open Deven Williams who knocked down a three to give the Tigers a 1-point lead with 15 seconds to play. Champaigne’s offensive board was one of 17 the Tigers (11-17, 9-5 MEAC) collected Saturday.
“I thought we fought, but we didn’t do a good job on the boards,” said A&T head coach Cy Alexander as he looked down at that box score and started naming off the names of post players who didn’t rebound. “We allowed them 21 second-chance points and 17 offensive rebounds. I’m very disappointed in our bigs other than (Bruce Beckford).”
All was not lost for A&T, however. After Alexander called timeout with 8.9 seconds remaining, Underwood came out of the huddle, went baseline and was fouled by Terel Hall in midair. Underwood went to the line and missed the first but made the second to send the game into overtime tied at 60.
The Tigers opened the overtime with a 3-point play by Joshua Montgomery and never relinquished the lead again. An alley-oop pass Hill led to a Jyles Smith dunk and a 67-63 Savannah State lead with 1:50 remaining in overtime. Denzel Keyes kept A&T’s hopes alive when he followed a Waylan Siverand miss with a dunk. After another driving layup from Montgomery, Keyes, who is in the lineup replacing injured leading scorer Richaud Pack, scored again to cut SSU’s lead to 69-67 with 38 seconds remaining.
After Williams made only one of two free throws, the Aggies (8-21, 4-10 MEAC) had one more chance to extend the game, but Middleton’s 3-point attempt rattled in and out.
“We were missing clutch shots. If we don’t miss clutch free throws, in the end we probably win,” said Alexander. “What happens if we finish the play and get a 3-point play? I just got to believe somewhere down the line something positive is going to happen for this team. We haven’t quit because we know it starts all over again in the (MEAC) tournament next week.”
Bruce Beckford had 17 points and seven rebounds. Keyes had 10 points and five rebounds, four on the offensive end.
The Aggies trailed by as many as nine, 37-28, 90 seconds into the second half. After a Saadiq Muhammad dunk made it 42-37, A&T went on a 13-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 50-42 with 9:40 to play. A Smith offensive rebound and put back tied the game for the Tigers at 52 as the two teams went back-and-forth over the final 6 ½ minutes of regulation.
The Aggies are back in action Monday when they face S.C. State at 8 p.m., at Corbett Sports Center.