GREENSBORO - The Aggies have a 2012 MEAC Basketball Tournament opponent. It is Howard University out of Washington, D.C.
But despite who the Aggies tip-off the ball against next week at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., next week, the North Carolina A&T men will have to hit shots, according to its head coach Jerry Eaves.
For the second straight game the Aggies shot less than 40 percent from the floor. Also for the second straight game, the Aggies barely shot 50 percent from the free throw line. On Thursday night, it resulted in a 72-65 loss to Norfolk State as the Aggies celebrated Senior Night at Corbett Sports Center.
Point guard Marc Hill and shooting guard Jared Williams played their final game at Corbett. Guard Nic Simpson was also honored even though he did not play because of a season-ending knee injury. Eaves also wanted to recognize center Kam Shepherd, who didn't play this semester for administrative reasons.
"For some reason on Senior Night, we did not approach the game with the effort we needed to for 40 minutes," said Eaves. "We just can't come to play. We have to come to compete. We have to grow up. We have to be Aggie Dogs - not puppies."
A&T will get at least one more opportunity to become "dogs" this season. Its next game will be Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 against tenth-seeded Howard in the MEAC Tournament at Joel Coliseum. The Aggies (12-19, 7-9 MEAC) earned the No. 7 seed, but they go into the tournament having lost six of their last eight heading into the tournament.
"We continue to shoot poorly from the field from point-blank range," said Eaves. "That is an issue when you're missing two-and-three-foot shots. The players have to grow up and hit those baskets. That's what players do. At the same time, we can't go to the free throw line and go 13-for-23. We're drawing the fouls, but we're not capitalizing on them. It makes them frustrated because they want to hit them. But that doesn't matter, you have to hit them."
It was another uphill climb for the Aggies on Thursday. NSU took the lead early thanks to outstanding 3-point shooting - 7-for-17 in the first half - and later the Spartans maintained the lead with easy baskets in the paint. A 3-point play by Pendarvis Williams gave the Spartans a 56-41 lead with 9:41 remaining.
NSU kept its double-digit lead over the next seven minutes until Williams spotted up in the corner and knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the NSU's lead to 66-59 with 2:15 to play. NSU center Kyle O'Quinn, who finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, hit two free throws to push the lead back to nine.
But Williams, who is 9-for-11 from 3-pont range in his last three games, hit another three to cut the lead to six. A&T turned a missed free throw by the Spartans into transition as junior forward Adrian Powell raced up the floor, spotted up and took a pass from Hill to knock down a 21-footer. Powell's jumper cut the Spartans lead to 68-65 with 54.3 seconds remaining.
Chris McEachin kept the Aggies' hopes alive as he missed two free throws. After an Aggies timeout, Hill penetrated into the lane and had an excellent opportunity to score on a reverse layup, but the ball bounced around the rim before falling out.
"We were one foot away," said Eaves. "If Marc's shot goes in the basket, it's a completely different game. The bottom line is you must make layups. The most expensive thing in the gym is the clock. You have to score the ball to make it move. It is not horseshoes and hand grenades. Being close doesn't matter. You have to make shots."
Fortunately for A&T, the Spartans continued to miss free throws. Marcos Tamares hit one of two from the free throw line after Hill's miss. With the Aggies down 69-65, Powell's 3-point attempt with 18 seconds remaining, rimmed out, securing the win for Norfolk State (22-9, 13-3 MEAC).
"We have to accept that we are outmanned. We have lost a lot," said Eaves. "We do have to regroup and get our team together. But at the same time, a little effort at the end of the game can go a long way. It is anyone's tournament. It is even my tournament. Even with all the players hurt, we can win this tournament. We have to take it. We can't sit back; we have to go get it."
Austin Witter and Powell had 11 points apiece for A&T. If the Aggies win Tuesday, they will get a rematch against Norfolk State Wednesday night at 8.