GREENSBORO (January 13, 2018) – Like any good foreman, North Carolina A&T head men’s basketball coach Jay Joyner wants the job completed correctly. Despite the fact the Aggies defeated what many consider the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in Morgan State, 69-67 Saturday evening at Corbett Sports Center, Joyner was a bit perturbed even when it was clear the game was in hand.
Yes, the Aggies (9-8, 2-0 MEAC) have already tripled their win total from last season. Yes, they have already exceeded their conference win total from a year ago. And yes, they stand as one of only three teams in the league without a conference loss, but there is a right way to do things. Joyner wasn’t pleased with how his Aggies closed out the Bears Saturday because his aspirations go beyond trying to top last season.
“There is a way you win and put teams in a position where they can’t recover,” said Joyner, who has led the Aggies to six straight wins at Corbett. ‘We didn’t do that. We’re still under construction. If we take care of the basketball and let them foul us then we win the right way. I’m happy with the outcome, but as we go throughout the season we’re going to learn if you don’t close out the right way, what should be a win will turn into a loss.”
The construction project Joyner and his staff is putting together is one with many useful parts. Junior center Femi Olujobi has been the main cog thus far, but the Aggies proved Saturday there are many gadgets at Joyner’s disposal when he needs them.
Junior guard Amari Hamilton had only played 12 minutes with no points over the Aggies previous four games. He came off the bench against the Bears and had 13 points including three 3-pointers. Sophomore Raymon Pratt logged only 18 minutes with five points in his previous four games before coming off the bench to score seven points on 3-for-3 shooting. Senior Davaris McGowens came off the bench to lead the Aggies in scoring with 19 points to go along with seven rebounds as the Aggies bench outscored Morgan State’s reserves 39-20.
A man the Aggies didn’t even think they would have this season, fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes, followed his 17-point performance at Delaware State with 12 points and six rebounds. The Aggie engine, freshman point guard Kameron Langley tied a season high with 10 assists up against only three turnovers. For good measure, Olujobi had 10.
“I was forced to play some guys who haven't played much lately, and they made me look really good tonight,” said Joyner. “Amari Hamilton and Raymon Pratt came in and gave us some quality minutes. This was the epitome of a team win.”
Joyner turned to his bench because the Aggies were down 12-0 within the first six minutes of the game. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Hamilton erased most of that deficit as the Aggies were within two, 12-10, over the next three minutes. The Aggies would go on to lead by as many as six in the first half before an Olujobi dunk off a Langley pass tied the game at 37 at halftime. What ensued in the second half was an entertaining basketball game.
The Aggies never trailed in the second half, but from the16-minute mark until there was seven minutes remaining, the Aggies never led by more than four points. A Keyes jump shot gave the Aggies a 59-54 lead with just under seven minutes to play. Morgan’s David Syfax answered with a 3-pointer to get the Bears (7-10, 3-1 MEAC) to within two.
But a McGowens jumper and a layup from Hamilton extended the Aggies lead to 63-57 with five minutes to play. Ninety seconds later McGowens came flying in from the baseline to follow-up a Hamilton miss to give the Aggies an 8-point advantage at 67-59. Two minutes later, Olujobi appeared to put the game away with a layup from a Langley pass as the Aggies led 69-63 with 1:12 to play.
But an ill-advised foul, a turnover and a missed layup that probably should not have been attempted to run clock instead, created more drama than needed. “People think I’m being funny when I say we are still under construction. But we still need to get guys to surrender and totally buy into the concept of team,” said Joyner.
Tiwian Kendley led the Bears with 20 points. The Aggies face Coppin State 7:30 p.m., Monday at Corbett.