NORFOLK, Va. (March 8, 2018) – North Carolina A&T men’s basketball are in position to make some historical achievements after they defeated Norfolk State 70-64 Thursday night in the quarterfinal round of the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Basketball Championship Tournament at Scope Arena.
The Aggies (20-13) are in the MEAC tournament semifinals for just the third time in the past 20 seasons. The 2017-18 Aggies also became the 17th team in school history to reach 20 wins in a season and just the third N.C. A&T men’s basketball team in the past 30 years to reach 20 wins. After winning only three games last season, the Aggies are one win away from tying the biggest NCAA Division I turnaround in history, as they attempt to match the 2003-04 UTEP team that had an 18-game win improvement from year to year.
“What a difference a year makes,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner, who was the associate head coach for the last N.C. A&T to win 20 games, the 2013 MEAC tournament champion Aggies.
Junior center Femi Olujobi led the Aggies with 18 points and nine rebounds as he went 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Freshman Kameron Langley was also impressive with 16 points and eight assists on 4-for-5 shooting from the field.
N.C. A&T will advance to play Hampton in the first of two semifinal games on Friday as the fourth-seeded Aggies and the top-seeded Pirates face off at 6 p.m., and the No. 6 N.C. Central Eagles and the No.7 Morgan State Bears play afterward.
The Aggies, who finished tied for fourth in the MEAC, improved to 4-1 against teams who finished in the top-5 of the MEAC standings with their win over the Spartans (14-19). The Aggies are 3-1 against the other three teams remaining in the tournament. They beat the Pirates 92-84 at Corbett Sports Center on Feb. 3.
“I can’t tell you if both teams are going to score that many points against each other again,” said Joyner. “It all depends on how Hampton plays us defensively. It’s tournament time, people are trying to survive and advance so they sit in zone a lot and make the game ugly. They’re a well-coached team with a history of winning this tournament. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
To get the Pirate challenge, the Aggies had to overcome the challenge fifth-seeded Norfolk State presented. Not only were the Aggies playing against a Spartans team who came into the game having won six of their last seven, the Spartans were also playing in front of their hometown crowd. NSU overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to take a 42-33 lead as Kyle Williams netted a 3-pointer three minutes into the second half.
Over the next seven minutes the Aggies fought back and took the lead on a Langley free throw that put the Aggies ahead 50-49. Langley then took a pass from junior Aaren Edmead and rose up to knock down a 3-pointer to put the Aggies up four. After NSU’s Preston Bungei jumper cut the lead back to two, Langley rebounded an Edmead miss and scored to give the Aggies a 55-51 lead with 9:11 to play.
“It’s great to have Kam in the program,” said Joyner. “Once you’ve played 20 games with the minutes he has played this year, you’re no longer a freshman. You have the confidence to go out and get the job done.”
After Williams, who scored 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 shooting from the 3-point arc, scored again to cut the Aggies lead back down to two, the Spartans went to a 1-3-1 zone that gave the Aggies problems in their 71-68 win over NSU in Greensboro in January.
The Aggies were ready for it. Edmead nailed a three from the corner and graduate guard Devonte Boykins drove the lane in transition to score to give the Aggies a 60-53 lead with 7:10 remaining.
NSU got the lead down to two on an Alex Long turnaround jumper with 2:20 to play and the Spartans had a chance to tie or take the lead after an Aggies turnover. But Long’s jumper went long and fifth-year forward Denzel Keyes swiped the rebound. Edmead then drove the lane to give N.C. A&T a 65-61 lead with 72 seconds to play. The Aggies went 5-for-6 from the free throw line over the final minute to put the Spartans away.
“In March it’s one and done, so you have to play every game like it’s your last,” said Langley. “During the regular season you can have bad games and comeback from it. In the tournament, you have to play hard every night just to stay alive.”