GREENSBORO - Nic Simpson knew he was close to scoring his 1,000th career point, but he didn't start thinking about it until late in the second half in the North Carolina A&T's men's basketball contest against S.C. State at Corbett Sports Center on Saturday.
With 7:19 remaining, Simpson drove to the basket and was fouled in a game that was headed to an 85-55 blowout win for the Aggies, who snapped a three-game losing streak.
"I knew about it coming in," said Simpson about his career milestone. "When I got the chance at the and-1, I knew I was getting close."
Despite missing the free throw on the and-1, Simpson still smelled blood in the water. Simpson, who needed 17 points to reach the milestone coming into the game, quickly connected on two 3-pointers over the next two minutes to become the 27th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points.
Simpson finished with 17 on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor and 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
"We're proud of Nic," said A&T head coach Jerry Eaves. "I think it's great he got his 1,000th point, and it was even better that he played so well tonight to get it. He shot lights out from three, which was huge for us."
Simpson reached quadruple digits for his career despite coming off the bench most of the season. After A&T's loss to Hawaii on Dec. 18, Eaves met with Simpson and told the senior out Ft. Thomas, Ky., he wanted more of a scoring edge off the bench.
"I accepted it because I've done it before," said Simpson. "I've come off the bench a lot as a sophomore and junior, so coming off the bench for me is not a real issue. Coach said he wanted me to come off the bench and start firing, so that is what I've done."
Apparently the strategy has worked. For the sixth time this season, the Aggies bench scored more than 50 points in a game. In addition to Simpson's performance, Marc Hill had 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting from off the bench, and Adrian Powell finished with 11 points and nine rebounds as a reserve.
The reason why Hill and Powell were coming off the bench is because Eaves tweaked his lineup after losing two straight on the road thanks to a combined 43 turnovers. A&T guards Jeremy Underwood, R.J. Buck and Jean Louisme made their first starts of the season.
Junior forward DaMetrius Upchurch also found himself in the starting lineup along with freshman Waylan Siverand who has actually started the Aggies (11-15, 6-5 MEAC) last eight games.
The results were impressive. Upchurch finished with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Underwood had a career-best seven assists.
"Benching my starters for this game was to get their attention," said Eaves. "We were just getting too lackadaisical. We weren't playing the way we're capable of playing. As the season evolves, you have to do things to get better. I was not mad at someone, we just needed a change."
The Aggies shot 61.5 percent in the first half and led by as many as 19 over the first 20 minutes. The closest the Bulldogs (5-19, 0-10) got to the Aggies in the second half was 13 when Brandon Riley hit a three to cut the lead to 52-39 with 14:46 remaining. Riley led the Bulldogs with 16.
Simpson increased the lead back to 20, 67-47, on his layup and and-1 attempt. He then hit consecutive threes to reach 1,000. Simpson is the third player under Eaves to score 1,000 points, joining Jason Wills and Thomas Coleman.
The Aggies return to action Monday night at Corbett Sports Center when they face one of the top teams in the MEAC in Savannah State at 8 p.m. The Bulldogs have not defeated the Aggies at Corbett since 2005.