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MDES Eliminates A&T From MEAC Tournament

Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information
          Release: 03/06/2017
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Junior James Whitaker came off the bench to score 13 points against Maryland Eastern Shore at the MEAC tournament on Monday. Photo by Charles E. Watkins
Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information

NORFOLK, Va. (March 6, 2017) – Twelfth-seeded North Carolina A&T used the confidence they gained from beating the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s best team in North Carolina Central on Thursday to propel them to a great first half performance on Monday against fifth-seeded Maryland Eastern Shore during the first men’s basketball play-in game at the 2017 MEAC Basketball Championship Tournament at Norfolk Score Arena.

But an MDES Hawks team bent on scoring in transition emerged in the second half, the Aggies confidence waned, and the Hawks advanced with a 74-67 win. The Aggies season comes to an end at 3-29 while the Hawks improved to 13-19. They will play the Hampton Pirates 9 p.m., Thursday at the Scope. Junior Eliel Gonzalez led the Aggies with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers. James Whitaker came off the bench to score 13 and Davaris McGowens added nine points and eight rebounds.

 “We played really well in the first half I thought,” said Joyner. “Unfortunately the game is not 20 minutes. It’s 40. Defensively, we did a lot of positive things in the first half. We didn’t do those same things in the second half. Once our shots stopped falling in the second half, our energy level dropped. It’s hard to recover from that.”

The Aggies and the Hawks were playing for the third time this season. MDES beat N.C. A&T 99-88 on Jan. 9 in Greensboro and were 106-95 triple overtime winners on Feb. 20 in Princess Anne, Md. In those two games, the Hawks shot a combined 51.6 percent from the floor and 45.1 percent from 3-point range. But the Aggies looked like a much better defensive team on Monday after holding NCCU to 20 percent shooting in the second half last Thursday.

MDES shot 37 percent in the first half and found themselves down 34-28 on a Sam Hunt 3-pointer with 3:11 remaining in the first half. That lead expanded to 10 on back-to-back layups, the latter coming as he switched hands in midair to finish the score. N.C. A&T attacked the basket effectively in the first half, going 10-for-17 from 2-point range thanks to their aggressiveness.

Late first-half surges and late first-half shots have hurt the Aggies all season, however. The late first-half surge issue popped up on Thursday as the Hawks ended the half on a 6-0 run to go into the locker room down 38-34.

That momentum carried over for the Hawks. After falling behind 38-28 in the first half, the Hawks outscored the Aggies 31-7 to take a 59-45 lead with 12:45 to play in the game. Thirteen of the Hawks’ first 25 points of the second were scored in transition. They also went to an active zone to shut down the Aggies’ ability to penetrate to the basket.

“We still should have attacked more. When they went zone we fell in love with the jump shot,” said Gonzalez. “We made some bad decisions against that defense. We should have taken it to the hole like we did in the first half.”

Bakari Copeland continued to do well against the Aggies. After scoring 26 in Greensboro and 29 in Princess Anne, the first-team All-MEAC performer finished with 25 on Thursday.

N.C. A&T, who failed to advance in the MEAC tournament for the fourth straight season, will now turn its focus to the offseason. The Aggies lose five players in Hunt, forwards James Whitaker and Nick Reese and centers Aaron Scales and Mike Owona. N.C. A&T have signed two players early and have three players sitting out as Division I transfers. Among those scheduled to return next season are Gonzalez and McGowens, both junior college transfers who got hot late in the season.

“We really had an all new team this year. We had a bunch of guys who had never played together before,” said Gonzalez. “This time we’ll have a whole offseason to work together as a team, which is really going to help us.”

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