North Carolina AT coach Cy Alexander claimed his team has been inconsistent on offense this season, but the Aggies defense has stepped up when needed.
In Tuesday night’s opening game of the First 4 against upstart Liberty at University of Dayton Arena, the North Carolina A&T Aggies needed every point they were given to earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament victory.
Jeremy Underwood scored 19 points and Bruce Beckford added 16 helping NC A&T end Liberty’s improbable NCAA Tournament trip with a thrilling 73-72 victory. “Luckily for us we made some shots tonight,” said Alexander. “We normally don’t.”
Davon Marshall led Liberty with 22 points, and John Caleb Sanders added 21 for the Flames who finished 15-21 and Big South Tournament champions.
Sanders virtually extended Liberty’s reign in the tournament but came up short on his potential game-winning layup attempt at the buzzer.
“We’ve had late-game situations like that, and coach always says to take it to the rim,” Sanders related. “It just did not fall for me tonight.”
Lamont Middleton added 14 points for North Carolina A&T Aggies (19-16) which had lost its previous 9 NCAA Tournament games.
The teams made a mixed 11 3-pointers in the 1st half. Liberty trailed by 7 points at halftime, but a 7-2 run to begin the 2nd half got the Liberty Flames back into the game.
Uninterrupted 3-pointers by Marshall cut NC A&T’s lead straight to 52-51.
“This team has never won before,” declared Alexander. “Sometimes they take plays off. I have to remind them that each possession is important.”
Both team got off to a blistering start to the 2nd half, combining for 20 points in the first 6 minutes and 13 seconds.
Adrian Powell’s 3-pointer finished a 9-0 run putting Aggies ahead 61-51. But the annoying Flames wouldn’t go away. Marshall’s 3-pointer got them within 3 points with 1:32 left.
Powell missed the front end of a one-one and Speaks scored to make the score 73-72. A near turnover by the Aggies ended in a jump ball. NC A&T was awarded possession. Betting lines
Middleton was fouled with 7 seconds left and missed his first free throw. Sanders raced down court but missed a difficult layup attempt.
“I was just hoping someone would cut him off,” Alexander declared. “I thought it was a smart play by Austin (Witter) not to foul him. That was my biggest fear.”
Liberty failed to seem like a 20-loss team early in Tuesday’s game. The Flames hit 6 of their first 8 shots including a pair 3-pointers. Speaks’ layup put them ahead 14-8.
But the Aggies began the game 3 of 6 from 3-point range, including one from Underwood which tied the score 16-16.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Sanders put Liberty ahead 22-20. There were 6 lead changes and 3 ties in the first half until a 10-0 run by the Aggies capped by Underwood’s second 3-pointer put them ahead by 8 points.
North Carolina A&T led by as much as 11 points in the 1st half. But consecutive 3-pointers by Marshall cut the Flames’ deficit to 36-31. Beckford scored 12 points in the 1st half for the Aggies, who led 40-33 at halftime.