BLACKSBURG, Va. (December 28, 2017) – There are some areas of the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball program that appear to be solidified heading into conference play in eight days. They have a go-to guy in junior Femi Olujobi who leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in scoring. A strong post presence seems to be emerging in senior Davaris McGowens, and a seven-win non-conference season will propel the Aggies into conference play.
What hurt the Aggies Thursday at Virginia Tech and where they want to get stronger over the next eight days is perimeter shooting. The Aggies were just 6-for-24 from 3-point range in a 76-59 loss to the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum. It was the Aggies second loss to an ACC team this season.
“We shot terrible from the field, and we need more consistency from our perimeter players,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “They didn’t do anything defensively we haven’t seen before. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. We’re going to have to start knocking down some perimeter shots.”
The 6-foot-8 Olujobi was the perimeter threat the Aggies against the Hokies (11-2). He went 7-for-13 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range to lead the Aggies with 21 points. McGowens was 6-for-7 from the field and finished in double figures for the second straight game with 12 points. The Aggies four main guards on Thursday – Milik Gantz, Kameron Langley, Aaren Edmead and Devonte Boykins – were a combined 6-for-32.
“It was a tough night offensively. That’s all you can say,” said Joyner. “When you're playing a team like Virginia Tech you've got to be able to score.”
N.C. A&T (7-8) did have prime scoring opportunities early. Olujobi’s 3-pointer from the top of the key gave the Aggies a 10-9 lead 5 ½ minutes into the game. Over the next three minutes the Aggies did a good job of getting deep into the lane for scoring attempts. Unfortunately, all they had to show for it were four missed layups which resulted in Virginia Tech going on a 10-0 to take a 19-10 advantage.
Olujobi got the Aggies to within seven on a short jumper. But the Hokies scored the next six points to take a 27-14 lead. Gantz’s 3-pointer knocked the deficit down to 10 with 6:10 remaining in the first half, but a 7-0 Hokies run was capped by an Ahmed Hill 3-pointer to give the Aggies a 34-17 lead. They led 38-20 at halftime and shot 58.6 percent.
“I thought the missed layups were the story of the game,” said Joyner. “We counted eight missed layups in the first half. That’s 16 points. We were down 18 at the half. Not converting those were huge.”
The lowest deficit the Aggies had in the second half was 14 even though they went from a 24.1 percent shooting in the first half to 48.5 percent second-half shooting. Hill led the Hokies with 14 points. Conference play opens 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 6 at Corbett Sports Center for N.C. A&T.
Even though the Aggies are just 12-for-56 from 3-point range over the last three games, they are 61-for-97 (.629) from 2-point range over that same span and they are shooting a respectable 47.1 percent from the floor this season. While Joyner is pleased with the fact his team has more non-conference wins than any other MEAC school, he knows those wins will not count toward winning the MEAC regular-season and tournament titles.
“Two months ago, my goal was to be 1-0 in conference,” said Joyner. “It's great to have seven non-conference wins, but starting next week that mean's absolutely nothing. We’re going into the game against Norfolk State expecting them to play extremely hard, so we need a tough week of practice to fine-tune some things. I think we're getting better. Some players are starting to find their groove. But we’re in crunch time now. Minutes are going to get a little funny because the experiment is over. I'm going with my gut the rest of the year. I'm going with the eight or nine guys I trust the most.”