GREENVILLE – A missed tip-in here and a driving layup that rolled off the back of the rim there was the way it went for the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team Saturday night at Minges Coliseum against East Carolina.
The Aggies had several opportunities at the rim, but missed most of them in an 84-71 loss to the Pirates. The Aggies’ 20 offensive rebounds led to 16 second-chance points, but they had a chance to make so many more.
“It’s hard to win on the road when you miss 16 layups,” said North Carolina A&T head coach Cy Alexander. “That’s 32 points that we missed. Some of them were tough, but if you are a Division I basketball player, you’ve got to make them.”
Richaud Pack led A&T (3-7) with 20 points and six rebounds on 8-for-9 shooting at the line. Sophomore Bruce Beckford added 17 points and senior Lamont Middleton finished with 16. The Pirates (9-2) had five players in double figures led by Akeem Richmond and Paris Campbell who had 21 apiece.
It was Richmond’s hot shooting, the Pirates zone defense and their pressure defense that gave the Aggies trouble early. Richmond had 15 of his 21 in the first half, while the Aggies had trouble getting in sync offensively. A&T also had six turnovers over the first 10 minutes of the game which led to the Pirates taking a 28-14 lead.
The Aggies did get comfortable eventually as Pack and Middleton started getting to the rim. Pack cut the Pirates’ lead to 32-22 with 5:11 remaining thanks to a steal and transition layup. But the Pirates went on an 8-1 run over the next two minutes to grab a 40-23 lead. They would take a 17-point lead into the locker room as A&T’s Ahmad Abdullah scored in the paint in the waning seconds of the first half to make it 44-27 at the half.
ECU continued to shoot the ball well in the second half and saw its lead grow to as many as 28, 71-43 with 9:36 to play. Despite the Aggies’ bad luck around the rim, Alexander stayed with his three-guard lineup of Pack, Middleton and Jeremy Underwood. He complemented it with big men Bryan Akinkugbe and Beckford.
“We still haven’t got into a rhythm of playing together yet,” said Alexander. “Pack has only been in the starting lineup two or three games. Bruce has been in and out of the lineup. Akinkugbe has missed some games, so we’re still getting accustomed to playing with each other.”
As of right now, the lineup of Middleton, Pack, Underwood, Beckford and Akinkugbe gives the Aggies the best chance to score inside and outside, according to Alexander. It is the lineup he plans to open conference play with in January. Until then, the Aggies will go on the road to face Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 18 and St. Louis on Dec. 21 before returning home on Dec. 28 to face Georgia Southern at 2 p.m. Youth groups will be admitted free with the filling out of the online application.
“We’re executing because we’re getting the ball near the basket,” said Alexander. “It’s coming. It’s not easy when you have a young group and you are having to do everything and learn everything in a hostile environment. We have to stay positive and keep grinding. But we definitely needed some of those points (from the missed layups) tonight.”