GREENSBORO-All evidence shows that if the Aggies want to make their way through the MEAC Men's Basketball Tournament next month in nearby Winston-Salem, they will have to rebound the basketball.
North Carolina A&T dropped to 2-14 this season when it has been outrebounded as Savannah State defeated the Aggies 66-59 Monday night at Corbett Sports Center.
The Aggies were outrebounded 46-27 against the Tigers as the two teams played each other for the first time.
"Our energy level is so erratic with this team. It's unbelievable," said Aggies coach Jerry Eaves. "One game we're moving, the next game we're running in water. It's just unbelievable. We got beat to every loose ball. We just couldn't get over the hump. We got close a few times; we just could never get over the hump."
The Aggies trailed by as many as 10 in the second half. But a Marc Hill steal led to a R.J. Buck layup that cut the Tigers lead to 58-56 with 3:37 remaining.
A&T's inability to get any closer became frustrating for Eaves and his team. Seconds after Buck's layup cut the lead to two, Simpson stepped in front of a Deric Rudolph pass. Simpson's clear path to the basket looked as if it was going to tie the game. His layup attempt rolled off the rim, however, leading to a Rashad Hassan layup that gave Savannah State a 60-56 lead with 2:45 remaining.
Simpson did hit two free throws to cut the lead back to two. On the Tigers' next possession, the Aggies forced Rudolph into a long 3-pointer, but Cedric Smith rebounded the miss and was fouled on the play. Smith connected on both free throws to give the Tigers a 62-58 lead with 1:39 to play.
A&T forward Austin Witter had another impressive drive to the basket, but he lost control of the basketball on his dunk attempt, leading to a Kierre Richardson rebound. Two Preston Blackman free throws sealed the win for the Tigers.
"We missed way too many layups," said Eaves. "We lived at the basket. The bottom line is we missed too many layups and free throws in the clutch."
Hill and Jeremy Underwood led the Aggies (11-16, 6-6) with 11 points apiece. Hassan, Smith and Jyles Smith combined for 11 of the Tigers' 16 offensive rebounds. The Tigers (16-10, 9-2) 16 offensive boards led to a 17-4 Savannah State advantage in second chance points.
"That's what they do," said Eaves about the Tigers ability to grab offensive boards. "They're persistent around the basket. We did not play very well, and we're going to have to find a way to just keep our energy level at the level it needs to be.
"Rebounding is nothing more than effort," Eaves continued. "They weren't bigger than us by any stretch of the imagination. They were just more active. They were running more. We're just going to continue to practice on blocking out."
The Aggies trailed by 10 in the first half before the Hill scored the next four points, including a jumper in the lane, to cut the Tigers halftime lead to 32-26. The Aggies turned the ball over a season-low six times.
"Their pressure just forced us out of our offense a little bit too much," said Hill. "'They kept the ball out the point guard's hands most of the time with the press, so we had to start the offense with our 2 or 3 guards. It didn't affect us that much, but most of our shots weren't falling today. We have plays for everything, so (their press) really didn't bother us. We missed too many layups."
The Aggies return to action at Corbett Sports Center against archrival N.C. Central on Saturday at 4 p.m. Students must have an official game ticket and their student identification to enter the gates. Deadline for students to obtain a ticket is Thursday, Feb. 16. General admission is $15.