DURHAM (March 1, 2018) – North Carolina A&T was trying to make history at the expense of their archrival N.C. Central at NCCU’s McDougald-McLendon Arena Thursday night. It didn’t quite work out for the Aggies as the Eagles avenged an earlier loss to the Aggies this season with a 70-59 win.
The Aggies (18-13, 11-5 MEAC) were trying to win their first regular-season Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 206 years. They were also trying to secure the No. 1 seed in the March 5-10, 2018 MEAC Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va. the Aggies heading into the March 5-10, 2018 MEAC Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va.
But with the loss, the Aggies will be the No. 4 seed and will face No. 13 Delaware State 6:30 p.m., Monday at Scope Arena. The Aggies swept Delaware State this season, beating the Hornets 76-66 in Dover, Del., on Jan. 8 and winning 54-51 in Greensboro on Feb. 5. If the Aggies win, they will not play again until Thursday night.
N.C. A&T aspirations were higher as they entered the game trying to become the first MEAC school to go from worst to first. But the Aggies struggled to score around the basket and their perimeter shooting didn’t ease the burden as the Aggies were 3-for-18 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Eagles (15-15, 9-7 MEAC) were not spectacular offensively, but with the game tied at 33 four minutes into the second half, one play seemed to turn the game in NCCU’s favor.
NCCU’s Raasean Davis grabbed an offensive rebound and found John Guerra in the corner for a 3-point attempt. N.C. A&T junior guard Aaren Edmead ran at Guerra to contest the shot but was called for a foul as Guerra netted the three. Guerra completed the four-point play to give the Eagles a 37-33 lead. Guerra’s 4-point play ignited an 11-0 run for the Eagles as they took a 44-33 with 12:39 to play.
Unfortunately, the Aggies never seemed to recover from the momentum-changing shot. A 3-pointer from the top of the key by fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes got the Aggies to within six at 62-56 with 1:14 to play in the game. That was as close as the Aggies would get after Guerra’s shot. NCCU hit 5 of 6 free throws over the final minute of the game to clinch the win.
“You have to give to our rival, they wanted the game more than we did,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “Our energy level was not where it needed to be for a rivalry game, let alone playing for a regular-season championship. We have nobody to blame but us. We were in the driver’s seat. All we had to do is win, and we’re regular-season champs. We’ve still have a long way to go in terms of everybody being together.”
In the first half, the Aggies led by as many as seven as a short jumper from junior Femi Olujobi gave the Aggies a 23-16 lead with 5 ½ minutes remaining in the first half. The Aggies scored the next four points before an Aaren Edmead jumper ended the spurt. But Jordan Perkins followed up with a 3-point play to get the Eagles to within two at 25-23. Freshman point guard Kameron Langley found Olujobi on a pick-and-roll to give the Aggies a four-point lead before a C.J. Wiggins 3-pointer brought NCCU to within one at halftime, 27-26.
Thursday marked the first time this season the Aggies have lost a game when leading at halftime. They were 14-0 coming into the game.
“We’ve got to bounce back and get ready for the tournament. We’re in a whole new season now,” said Joyner. “We came into tonight with five teams tied for first. That tells me anybody can go to Norfolk and win the tournament.”
Olujobi led the Aggies with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Senior Davaris McGowens had 14 points and seven rebounds. Davis led the Eagles with 21 points.
The Aggies will be looking for their first tournament win since 2013 when they won four straight games to win the MEAC tournament.