NORFOLK, Va. –North Carolina A&T could not pull off the difficult task of beating their heated rival three times in one season.
As a result, the Aggies were eliminated from the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) men’s basketball tournament semifinals 65-63 by the N.C. Central Eagles at the Norfolk Scope Arena. The Eagles will advance to the MEAC final against Norfolk State 1 p.m., at the Scope.
Meanwhile, the Aggies (19-13) are left with a decision about their postseason future for the 2018-19 season. If Norfolk State wins the title on Saturday, the Aggies have an outside chance of receiving an NIT bid. If that does not workout, other postseason invitations may come N.C. A&T’s way.
The question is, will they accept? For now, the Aggies will reflect on their second consecutive outstanding season that did not result in playing for a MEAC title.
In what was an intense ballgame between two longtime rivals who spent the night diving on the floor after loose balls, making every drive to the basket difficult and playing tug of war with rebounds, the Aggies could not make enough plays in the end to prevent the Eagles from reaching their third straight MEAC title game.
The biggest lead all night for either team was seven points.
“When you play your rival for the third time, the stakes increase a lot,” said N.C. A&T coach Jay Joyner. “As a team, for 40 minutes, we didn’t play as hard as they did. There were moments when I witnessed five red jerseys going to the ground for loose balls or five red jerseys crashing the glass and fighting for rebounds. That did not happen consistently enough on our side. We had our moments of playing hard. But not enough of them.”
N.C. A&T sophomore Kameron Langley put together his second straight double-double of the tournament scoring 14 points and dishing out 10 assists. In doing so, Langley broke the single-season school record for assists, tumbling Glenn Taggert’s 1989-90 record of 201 assists. Langley, one of the top assists men in the nation, has 208 assists this season.
Langley tied the record in the first half with three assists. Four minutes into the second half, he went down the lane and dumped off a pass to graduate center Ibrahim Sylla for a dunk to break Taggert’s record.
The dunk gave the Aggies a 34-33 lead. It was followed by a short jumper from the elbow by senior guard Aaren Edmead. After two NCCU free throws, senior guard Milik Gantz drove baseline, scored and was fouled on the play. Gantz completed the 3-point play to put the Aggies ahead 39-35 with 14:14 to play.
NCCU then went on a 7-0 run culminating in a Randy Miller, Jr. 3-pointer to put the Eagles in front 42-39. They would never trail again. With 2:07 to play, Langley intercepted a Zacarry Douglas pass and zipped a pass down court to senior Qua Copeland who finished on the other end to pull the Aggies to within one, 56-55. But on the Eagles next possession, Larry McKnight, Jr., hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to put the Eagles up four.
A Sylla layup cut the lead to two, but the Eagles got a crucial offensive rebound from Raasean Davis who turned the second opportunity into two free throws to give the Eagles a 61-57 lead with 54 seconds remaining.
“We have to continue to build the program the right way with the right players. We have to continue to get better,” said Joyner. “These young men have nothing to hold their heads down about. Yes, we wanted to play in the championship game, and we were right there until the end. But they got it done and we didn’t. If you want to win a championship, it’s maximum effort from beginning to end. We gave max effort at times, but not enough.”
The Aggies will have to replace seven players. They have three early signees and they are scheduled to return standout players such as Langley, Ronald Jackson, Tyrone Lyons and Andre Jackson.