GREENSBORO - North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T is as heated a rivalry as there is in men's college basketball. That was never more evident than during a period in the second half where there were three technical fouls called in a span of three minutes.
The situation left one coach pleased that his team was able to be poised during the animosity, while the other coach felt the animosity should have never reached that point. With a 71-66 NCCU win over A&T in front of a sellout crowd at Corbett Sports Center Saturday evening, it was not hard to tell which coach leaned toward what opinion.
"It's going to be an emotional game; it's heated," said NCCU coach LeVelle Moton. "It's Yankees-Red Sox. It's Ravens-Steelers. It's Ali-Frazier and whoever else. I wanted to see that energy. But it has to be controlled energy. I thought it was controlled. I thought the refs did a good job of trying to get it under control before it spiraled out."
"You need people out there who can handle a game of this magnitude," said A&T head coach Jerry Eaves. "The issue was for them to gain control of the game early. That didn't happen."
Turmoil between the two longtime historically black university rivals who faced one another for the 139th time on Saturday, started after NCCU forward Dominique Sutton scored on a layup with 11:12 remaining in the game to put the Eagles down by one at 51-50.
On the Aggies next possession, Jeremy Underwood missed a jump shot in which the Aggies bench believed he was fouled. The A&T bench was called for a technical foul, putting Ray Willis on the line for two free throws. Willis connected on both to give NCCU the lead with a little less than 11 minutes to play.
Two minutes later, Aggies wingman Austin Witter and Sutton got entangled in an altercation that led to a Witter technical. The Eagles withstood the hostilities from a partisan Aggie crowd as Willis hit the two free throws connected to the technical foul, Sutton hit a layup in the paint and Willis hit a three to complete what turned out to be an 11-0 run.
During the course of the run, Sutton was also hit with technical foul for taunting, but the Aggies didn't capitalize as they missed both free throws.
"There was no loss or swing of momentum," Eaves said. "I thought my coaches and players acted properly, but did not get rewarded for it."
Marc Hill ended the Eagles run with a jumper in the lane, but Nick Chasten hit a three to put the Eagles up by nine. A&T scored the next four points, including a steal and a dunk by Adrian Powell that brought the energetic Aggie crowd to its feet. But Jeremy Ingram connected on another NCCU 3-pointer, and Willis scored on a 10-footer to put NCCU ahead 69-59 with 2:06 remaining.
Missed Eagle free throws down the stretch helped the Aggies get back into the game. Two misses by Sutton led to a DaMetrius Upchurch tip-in that cut the Eagles lead to 69-65 with 18 seconds remaining. But Ingram iced the game by hitting two late free throws as the Eagles improved to 14-12 overall and 8-5 in the MEAC.
"In the end, we have to regroup, come together and find a way to win games," said Eaves. "We'll get back to work tomorrow, watch some tape and improve. We'll get ready to play Saturday."
The Aggies (11-17, 6-7 MEAC) were led by Adrian Powell's 16 points and eight rebounds. Sutton led the Eagles with 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Willis added 15 points and 12 boards. The Aggies head to South Carolina to face S.C. State on Feb. 25 at 4 p.m.
The Aggies led by as many as seven in the first half as a Witter steal led to a Nic Simpson dunk that gave A&T a 39-32 lead with 2:26 remaining in the half. But the Eagles answered with five straight points; including an Ingram three as the first half expired.
"Hopefully, we'll get a chance to play this team again," said Eaves. "I think their coach does a tremendous job of getting them prepared. When we see them again, we hope we have people that can handle this type of game."