North Carolina A&T’s 69-67 win at East Tennessee State on Monday night was a surprise yet also indicated what lies ahead for coach Will Jones’ team.
Coming out of a timeout in a tie game, Kameron Langley fed a cutting Tyler Maye on the baseline for a layup with seven seconds remaining for the go-ahead bucket. Collin Smith’s interior defense thwarted ETSU’s potential game-tying shot at the buzzer.
It was only the fourth win for the Aggies in 12 games as they’ve traveled and faced a top 70 schedule. Their record doesn’t reflect the talent Jones has attracted to the Greensboro, N.C. campus.
Smith, a former American conference honoree from UCF, played in his first game in 18 months. Top 100 recruit Duncan Powell should join the Aggies soon. Maye, a high-scoring guard in high school, is finally healthy and thriving. Marcus Watson, a 6-6, 235-pound wing, scores inside and on the perimeter, producing 19 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Bucs on Monday night..
“I’ve been telling this version of the team without Collin, I want you guys to get better, this group. We’ve been in every game except Wake. They made 11 3-pointers in the first half,” Jones said. “Rebounding and inside presence really was our Achilles’ heel against some of those high majors.”
Adding the 6-11 Smith to the frontcourt bolsters the Aggies around the basket. They are 321st in defensive rebounding percentage and 234th in 2-point field goal defense. While he was quiet on offense in his debut, A&T outscored ETSU by 18 points during his 20 minutes on the floor.
“Once he gets his offensive legs back under him, he’s going to be really tough. He just knows how to play. He’s been to the NCAA tournament. He had to play defense against (7-foot-6) Tacko Fall every day at UCF. He knows how to play defense,” Jones said. “That’s really what stopped East Tennessee State’s ability to score at the basket. He just covered the basket up. It just changes us.”
A&T forced 17 turnovers vs. UCF and 18 vs. ETSU. It ranks 54th nationally in defensive turnover rate, forcing teams to lose the ball on 22 percent of their possessions.
“We’re turning people over, that’s what we do,” Jones said. “The new guys are starting to figure out defensively how we want to play.”
A&T, which begins its first run through the Big South on Jan. 5th vs. Presbyterian, travels to face Howard, one of the MEAC favorites, on Saturday in Newark, N.J.
The Corner 3
1. Entering action on Wednesday night, all 10 Southern Conference members have a winning record. In past seasons, a powerful top half drove the conference’s rating and reputation but this season the depth top-to-bottom appears better than ever.
Justin Gray is doing a terrific job at Western Carolina in his first season, leading the program to wins over Bowling Green and Longwood and a 6-5 record. Samford is 8-2 under second-year coach Bucky McMillan, the VMI Keydets beat Gardner Webb and took Wake Forest to the final minutes last week, confounding the Deacons with their player movement, 3-point shooting and sharp passing. Mercer has won five in a row to improve to 7-4.
Wofford, Furman and ETSU are still solid title contenders.
Preseason favorite Chattanooga (9-1) has an opportunity to secure yet another signature victory for the SoCon when it travels to face in-state foe Belmont tonight.
2. In honor of former Davidson star Stephen Curry becoming the NBA’s career 3-point leader on Monday night, we’re recognizing three long-range marksmen from mid-majorland this season. These gentlemen better sit atop any opponent’s scouting report. They’re open when they enter the arena.
Charlie Easley of South Dakota State has made 13 of 21 3-pointers so far against Division I opponents. That’s 61 percent. Cornell’s Keller Boothby opened the season with an 0-for-3 effort beyond-the-arc against Binghamton. Since then, he’s hit 23 of 35 and leads the nation in offensive rating (153.1). Wofford freshman Austin Patterson is 15 of 26 (57.7 percent) on 3-point attempts in the Terriers’ nine D1 games.
3. Eastern Michigan alum George Gervin was honored at halftime of the Eagles’ game against Florida International on Saturday and the two teams gave the Iceman quite a show. EMU prevailed 92-88 in four overtimes. The Eagles held FIU scoreless over the last five minutes of regulation to erase a seven-point deficit. Each team rallied to force another extra period in the first three OTs before Eastern Michigan finally took control in a game that had 108 possessions.
Gervin scored 1,044 points in two seasons at EMU before an illustrious ABA and NBA career that featured six first-team All Star selections and induction into the Hall of Fame in 1996.