The Aggies shot a season-high 59.3 percent in the second half.
By Brian Holloway, Athletic Communications North Carolina A&T
EAST GREENSBORO – Ten games into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team is a contender. The Aggies looked like championship contenders in the second of their Thursday night CAA contest against Drexel as they defeated the Dragons 68-55 at Corbett Sports Center.
It marked the Aggies fifth win in six games, improving their record to 11-12 overall and 6-4 in the CAA. Drexel dropped to 12-9 overall and 6-3 in conference play. The Aggies are among six teams with six or more wins in the Colonial.
They are 3 1/2 games behind 18th-ranked conference leader College of Charleston. In addition, the Aggies are a game and a half behind the two second-place teams (Towson and Hofstra), and only a game behind those teams in the win column.
Second-half adjustments are making the difference for A & T lately. On Saturday at William & Mary, the Aggies scored 54 second-half points, the most against a Division I opponent this season. They also had their best second-half shooting performance at 58 percent in the 90-86 win in Williamsburg, Va.
A&T followed that masterpiece with 49 second-half points on Thursday on 59.3 percent second-half shooting to eclipse the hot shooting second half they had on Saturday. Junior wing Marcus Watson followed up his 28-point performance at William & Mary with 22 points and eight rebounds on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the line. Watson has now made 13 straight free throws.
“He’s on fire,” said A&T interim head coach Phillip Shumpert about Watson. “He hit some big-time shots to ignite that big run we had that enabled us to get out to a 20-point lead.”
And what an incredible run it was. The Aggies trailed 31-19 at halftime after shooting 25 percent in the first half. The Aggies outscored the Dragons 30-4 to open the second half, taking a 49-35 lead. Within that spurt, the Dragons went 2-for-12 (.167) from the floor and surrendered 21 straight points to the Aggies.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Shumpert. “We had a good defensive effort, and we rebounded the ball well in the first half, but we couldn’t score. Our defensive effort ramped up a little bit in the second half, limiting them to one shot. From there, we were able to push the tempo.”
Shumpert also gave credit to 6-foot-9 forward Austin Johnson for manning the paint. Shumpert said his blocked shots led to transition buckets. Johnson ended the night with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
The Aggies had 21 fastbreak points as sophomore Kam Woods led the transition efforts with 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, marking his first career double-double.
“We didn’t want to pay in the halfcourt with those guys. They only give up 61 points a game,” said Shumpert. “They’re great defensively in the halfcourt, so you want to push tempo whenever the opportunity presents itself. We established the inside once we got in the halfcourt, but we ran when we got the opportunity to run.”
A&T led by as many as 20 in the second half. However, the Dragons did go on a 10-0 run to cut A&T’s lead to 60-50 with 3:25 remaining. But the Aggies scored the next five points by going 5-for-6 from the free throw line to take a comfortable 15-point lead with 1:42 to play.
In conference play, the Aggies have now overcome a 13-point halftime deficit to win at Hofstra, an 11-point first-half deficit to win at Elon, a 10-point first-half deficit to beat Stony Brook and a 12-point halftime deficit to win on Thursday night.
The Aggies out-rebounded the Dragons 52-36 and outscored them 28-18 in the paint. Demetric Horton contributed 16 points, six rebounds and four assists on 6-for-9 shooting.
“All the teams in the CAA play tough and physical, and if we don’t match that physicality, we will not have an opportunity to win basketball games,” said Shumpert. “In the last two games, we’ve gotten tougher in crashing the glass, and that’s helped us get out in transition and run.”