The North Carolina A&T; basketball team has played its first seven games on the road, including a recent 18-hour bus trip to a tournament in Fairfield, Conn. But it was the Aggies who had the fresher legs and gave the extra effort on the boards in beating inconsistent Morgan State, 92-86, at Hill Field House last night.
N.C. A&T; (2-6), which lost a last-minute, 66-65 heart-breaker at Howard on Sunday, survived a late rally by Morgan to gain its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory. Morgan fell to 2-9, 0-2 in MEAC play.
The Bears, who trailed 82-72 with five minutes left, closed to 87-84 on a three-pointer by center Chris McCarthy. But Aggies center Joe Bunn won the battle for a loose ball and made a layup to give the visitors a five-point lead with 59 seconds left.
A jumper by Chico Langston made it 89-86, but the Bears could come no closer in the final minute.
Junior guard Philip Allen led the Aggies' balanced offense with 20 points. Late-blooming swingman John Floyd and Tyrone Brice added 18 apiece. Langston led the Bears with 17.
The Aggies, who were playing without scoring leader Jamaine Williams, who was suspended last week for disciplinary reasons, out-hustled the bigger Bears on the boards and for almost all the loose balls.
The Bears, with 6-foot-11 Gerald Jordan, 6-10, 290-pound McCarthy and 6-10, 310-pound reserve center Jarrod Smith, figured to have a significant advantage on the front line. But it proved just the opposite, as the Aggies finished with a 35-24 rebounding edge.
Floyd, an agile, 6-6 junior who played little last season, used his quickness and agility to grab eight rebounds, and Jones, a 6-6 leaper, had a game-high nine.
Jordan, the Bears' rebounding leading, managed only four in 36 minutes. He left the game briefly late in the second half after twisting his ankle.
"We'd played our best game of the season in that disastrous loss to Howard," said Aggies coach Jeff Capel. "I didn't know how my kids would respond. But they showed surprising intensity to win this game."
After letting the Bears jump out to an 11-2 lead in the first three minutes, the Aggies quickly settled down and trailed only 46-45 at halftime.
It remained close until the outside shooting of Brice and the inside game of Floyd gave the Aggies an 82-72 cushion, and they then fought off Morgan's desperate rally.
"In the second half, we just didn't do a good job of attacking their zone," said Morgan coach Michael Holmes. "We haven't been involved in a lot of close games this season, save for our win over George Mason, so we really haven't learned how to win when the game is on the line in the last few minutes."
One obvious problem was the Bears' inability to work the ball down low to Jordan, who scored 31 against George Mason.
Jordan, who sat out the past two seasons while becoming academically eligible, got only 10 shots against the shorter Aggies.
"We're playing better than the start of the season, but we've got to do a better job of getting the ball inside," said Holmes.