MEAC Men: NC A&T 57, Morgan St. 54.By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer Saturday, Mar 16, 2013
He did it in the final 23.4 seconds.
Powell scored 14 points, including two critical free throws with 23.4 seconds to play, and then blocked a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds Saturday as the Aggies beat Morgan State 57-54 to win their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship since 1995.
“I just wanted to make history because it’s been a long time since A&T has even had a winning season, and I knew we had the team to do it with seven seniors,” Powell said, adding that not even students on campus had any expectations of the team. “Nobody believed in us, and we just proved everybody wrong.”
The Aggies clinched the winning season with a victory in the semifinals, and then gave the school its MEAC-best 16th tournament championship, making certain that the teams that come behind them will know that the 2012-13 version did something special to revisit that tradition of success.
“We’ve been practicing on the court for four years and we see those banners every day. It says 1995 and that’s all it says and it just stops,” senior Justin Witter, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, said, causing his teammates and coach Cy Alexander to laugh. “They can put ours up now.”
Lamont Middleton added 13 points, all in the second half, for as the seventh-seeded Aggies (19-16). Middleton played just four minutes in the first half when he said he was anxious because of the stakes and drew two quick fouls, but was aggressive on offense after halftime.
“I wanted to win. I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to let my teammates down,” he said.
DeWayne Jackson led Morgan State (17-15) with 20 points, but had his 3-point try swatted away by Powell with a few seconds to play, and then missed a contested try again at the buzzer, sending the cheerleeaders and some fans from North Carolina A&T streaming onto the court in a brief celebration.
The loss was the first in nine games for Morgan State, which missed 12 of 20 free throws.
“You’re not going to win many games of you shoot 40 percent from the free throw line,” Bears coach Todd Bozeman said. “Eight-for-20’s not a good look.”
The game was close throughout the second half, and an 8-3 run by the Aggies gave them a 51-45 lead with 6:44 to play. Witter banked in a shot from just inside the 3-point line to start the run and finished it with a free throw, giving the Aggies their biggest lead of the half.
Justin Black’s second field goal of the game pulled the Bears within four, but he was fouled and failed to convert the three-point play. When the Bears’ Anthony Hubbard was fouled after a turnover by the Aggies, he missed both free throws, part of the Bears’ 6-for-14 performance at the line in the half.
Middleton’s 17-footer boosted the Aggies’ lead back to six before two free throws by Jackson and Hubbard’s driving basket pulled Morgan State back to 53-51 with just 3:59 remaining.
Middleton’s missed free throw—the Aggies finished just 8 for 16 at the line — started a string of failed chances for both teams, and when the Aggies’ Bruce Beckford broke the scoring drought with an inside basket, A&T was ahead 55-51 with 1:43 to go.
Blake Bozeman, the coach’s son, quickly answered with a 3-pointer, his only field goal of the game, setting up the finish.
After making both of his free throws, Powell hustled back on defense, saw Jackson coming around a curl and “I was able to time his shot,” he said.
Both teams took turns having the upper hand in the first half, with the Aggies getting eight points from Powell in a 15-4 run that gave them a 21-17 lead, and the Bears closing the half on 9-4 burst.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr