By Amir Frazier
The North Carolina A&T Aggies (T-2nd MEAC) returned to their home floor of the Corbett Sports Center January 25th to take on a formidable opponent in the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats with a 3-2 league record heading into the contest, but the road to this point has been a tumultuous one.
The Aggie Men’s Basketball team had one of the biggest turnarounds in recent D1 Basketball history after finishing 2016-17 with a 3-29 (1-15 MEAC) record and adding seventeen more wins the very next season with a 20-15 year. Just last season (2018-19) this same squad was predicted to finish top five in conference play and ended the season with a #2 ranking in MEAC play (13-3 MEAC record, 19-13 overll), two wins over rival NC Central, and one of the longest home win streaks in Division 1 basketball (10-0).
The 2019-20 season in Greensboro has shown its promise, as the Aggies have shown grit and determination in a taxing out-of-conference schedule consisting of eight high-major programs. The Aggies nearly pulled out a road upset in nearby Winston-Salem against ACC opponent Wake Forest.
Heading into conference play, many fans of the blue and gold Bulldogs of Greensboro had no idea what to expect as an abrupt coaching changes called for assistant coach Will Jones to step up to the main role after the university indefinitely suspended coach Jay Joyner. Jones was hired by Joyner in July 2016 and promoted to associate head coach two years later.
“I came in and had a plan on what we needed to do, they saw that and continued to achieve at a high level”, states Jones on his success in his new role (6-2 current record as of this published article).
MEAC play opened up for the team with a big win against FAMU in Corbett, a game that the Aggies managed to lead by 20-points before letting the Rattlers slowly creep back into the game and force overtime. Eventually the home team prevailed and the Aggies would get a seven-point win, and their 18th consecutive MEAC regular-season home win (last loss Feb. 27, 2017 vs BCU)
“You know everybody wants to beat A&T, that’s already understood.”
The team that consists of two newcomers in the staring lineup (Tyler Maye and Devin Haygood) has shown that their new head coach has earned their respect, a trait Jones deems as most important in the group’s success. Veteran play has been a huge key for the Aggies to this point as well, with leadership not only coming from Coach Jones but Junior Guard Kam Langley and Senior Forward Ron Jackson as well.
“He’s put the time in, he’s stayed around and worked”, says Jones about Jackson, a former MEAC Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago while averaging 16 ppg, 12 rpg, and 2 steals.
Jackson hasn’t been the only veteran big man presence. He has paired with Center and Youngstown State transfer Haygood on the boards and on the defensive end of the court. “When those two guys are clicking, they’re tough to stop”, said Jones on the big man duo with a slight chuckle.
Leadership in star point guard Langley can’t be ignored, as the hometown point guard, and current school single-season assists record holder, recently tallied a double-double (22 points and 12 assists) in a bounce back win at Morgan State (Jan. 20, 2020) to close out the Aggies four-game road trip to the Northeast where A&T finished 3-1.
Coming into this Saturday’s huge matchup against the conference scoring leaders in BCU, Jones knows how many more foes the Aggies will have from this point on in 2020: “You know everybody wants to beat A&T, that’s already understood. They’re definitely coming out and looking to stop us from pushing the pace.”
The Wildcats-Aggies matchup can probably lead fans to expect some high-scoring basketball, but Jones and the rest of the group is confident in the abilities to simply stop the Wildcats from executing their usual game. “Control the defensive end, rebound, and push the basketball” is the outlook from the home side on Saturday.
The Aggies Men’s basketball program is quickly looking to create a culture of consistency to bring the enthusiasm to match the school’s overall success game by game. This is a team that has come back from a 1-win conference season just three seasons ago to becoming a legitimate force in the MEAC, and Jones has answered many questions despite the raised eyebrows of the Aggie faithful on how adversity would be handled.
This team is unselfish, composed, focused, and eager to bring East Greensboro a long-awaited MEAC Men’s Basketball championship.
Editor’s Note: A&T won their 19th consecutive home conference game with a 98-95 win over BCU. Five Aggies scored in double-figures led by junior guard Langley with 16 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds in 36 minutes of action, senior forward Jackson with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and senior guard Andre Jackson who scored 18 points in 18 minutes. Both teams shot over 50% from the 3pt line (BCU 7-12, 58.3%; NC A&T 11-21, 52.4%).
Amir Frazier is a mass media journalism student at North Carolina A&T State University graduating in 2021. A freelance writer and photographer. Amir is the creator of Aggie Football Central , which provides independent coverage of the North Carolina A&T Aggie football team via Instagram. It is not affiliated with the university.