SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Denzel Keyes has decided to perform the difficult task of playing football and men’s basketball at North Carolina A&T. If Wednesday night is any indication of how this experiment will look, then there shouldn’t be a problem.
Keyes, who is coming off of leading Kinston High School to the Class 2AA N.C. High School Athletic Association state title, scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench to lead A&T to an 88-73 win over Mauricio Baez Club Team. The Aggies completed their three-game, five-day tour through Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic with a 2-1 record. Keyes got help off the bench from fellow reserve Richaud Pack, who finished with 20 points on 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.
For the third straight night, the Aggies played in a small gym open-air gymnasium, ventilated by a raised roof surrounded by a cage to let air in. They also played in front of crowds rooting hard for their respective teams to beat the Americans.
“I was very impressed with how we accepted the challenge playing in adverse conditions,” A&T head coach Cy Alexander said. “I thought they grew up during the course of this trip. I also think that it was impressive that every night someone different showed up. The first night Lamont was very good offensively, and Pack was very steady the entire trip. Second night Bruce played well offensively. Tonight, Denzel Keyes was just an awesome athlete off the bench.”
But it was Lamont Middleton, the Aggies leading scorer during the week (17.3 ppg), who got hot in the fourth quarter. Middleton sat most of the game with foul trouble. But with senior point guard Jeremy Underwood unable to return to the game because of an earlier technical foul, A&T head coach Cy Alexander had to put Middleton at point guard and leave Pack in at shooting guard.
It worked out. The Aggies trailed 59-57 going into the fourth quarter. But they outscored Mauricio Baez 20-6 over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Middleton scored 11 straight points and had a steal and an assist during the run to help the Aggies take a 77-65 lead. Middleton scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half.
MBC cut the lead to seven, 77-70, on a 3-pointer with 4:32 remaining. But a Keyes layup and gilding slam dunk from the baseline put the game away for good with two minutes to go.
“We basically got back in the game with four new players,” said Alexander, referring to freshman point guard Michael Briscoe, freshman Maurice Taylor, Pack and Keyes. “Pack is a senior, but he didn’t play with us last year, so I think it spoke volumes for us that those young men were able to bring us back. Then of course Lamont was great in the fourth quarter.”
A&T led by as many as 10 in the first half, but MBC ended the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 40-35 lead at the half. MBC’s lead grew to nine in the third quarter before a Pack 3-pointer, a Keyes layup and a reserve dunk by Siverand put the Aggies down two, 50-48, with 4:20 to play.
The Aggies will return to Greensboro early Friday morning and will begin practice for the 2013-14 season on Sept. 27. Before the game the Aggies visited an orphanage of 30 girls and played volleyball, jumped rope and sung songs.
“This has been an awesome trip for our young men,” said Alexander. “We did so much more than just come here to play basketball. What these young men experienced this week will change their lives forever. They really got a chance to see how fortunate they are and how important it is to give back.”