DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Three-point shooting and an untimely technical foul kept the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team winless in Daytona Beach, Fla., over the last 18 years as Bethune-Cookman came away with a 72-60 win over the Aggies at Moore Gymnasium.
The loss marked the Aggies 16th straight in Daytona Beach. Lamont Middleton led A&T with a season-high 25 points and seven rebounds, but his performance was trumped by the Wildcats' accuracy from 3-point range. B-CU connected on 12 of its 26 3-point attempts to shoot 46.2 percent from the game.
"Contesting 3-point shots was one of our keys coming into the game that we didn't take care of. I also think they out-toughed us," said A&T head Cy Alexander about an Aggies team that was outrebounded 42-33, Saturday evening. "I thought they were physically tougher than we were."
Another flaw in the Aggies game plan came in the form of unexpected and uncharacteristically bad shooting performances from senior forwards Austin Witter and Adrian Powell. Witter was just 1-for-3 from the floor, while Powell, coming off of a week in which he was named MEAC Player of the Week, only had two points on 1-for-11 shooting.
"They wanted it so bad, I think they put a little too much pressure on themselves," said Alexander.
Despite the struggles, A&T was still able to take hold of a 49-43 lead after freshman center Bruce Beckford took the ball from Wildcat guard Ricky Johnson and dunked it with 13:43 remaining in the game. Over the next two minutes, the Wildcats were able to erase the lead. A 3-point play by Adrien Coleman sliced the lead to three, and an Aggies turnover led to a Javoris Bryant layup.
Kevin Dukes, who hit five 3-pointers on Saturday and who has connected on 18 3-pointers in last three contests against the Aggies, knocked down a three from the corner to give the Wildcats a 51-49 lead.
"We didn't play very smart when we went up by six," said Alexander. "We didn't play like a team with a lead. They actually outplayed us from the point we took that lead because we didn't do smart things with the basketball."
Jean Louisme hit a three to put the Aggies back in front by one as the two teams exchanged leads over the next five minutes until another incident that Alexander didn't think was too smart occurred. After a Dukes' three gave the Wildcats a 59-56 lead with 5:31 remaining, an unexpected whistle blew.
A technical foul was called on the Aggies bench to Alexander's apparent surprise. Dukes hit two free throws, which was followed by a Malik Jackson 3-pointer and Javoris Bryant layup. By the time the entire ordeal was finished, the Wildcats had a 66-56 lead with 3:25 to play.
"We can't have technical fouls from the bench. I don't personally think they should have called a tech," said Alexander, believing that the bench should have been accessed a warning instead. "But you have to keep in mind; it is his right to make that call. We have to make sure we have control of our emotions on the sideline. The technical foul changed the momentum of the game."
Jackson came off the bench to hit 6 of 8 3-pointners and score 20 points for the Wildcats (6-11, 1-1 MEAC). Dukes added 19. Bruce Beckford and Jean Louisme scored in double figures for A&T with 13 and 12 respectively. A&T now has to regroup as it heads to Tallahassee, Fla., for a Monday night tilt against Florida A&M. The Aggies are 7-10 overall and 0-2 in the MEAC.
"I want our young men to understand what we didn't do, but at the same time I don't want to beat them up over it," said Alexander. "We've got to regroup mentally and physically. Obviously if we go 0-3, we're in a tough spot. But it's not unheard of to bounce back. I think right now, we just need to win a conference game. We just need to win one for our own physce."
A&T took advantage of consecutive Bethune-Cookman technical fouls in the first half that led to four Middleton free throws and a 30-26 A&T lead with 4:36 remaining. But three Wildcat 3-pointers to close the first half, including one at the buzzer by Dukes, sent B-CU into the locker room with a 39-35 halftime lead.