NCAT vs NCCU Preview (Mar. 5 2019)
by Amir Frazier, AggiesEmpire
DURHAM – Aggie Men’s basketball travels to McDougald-McLendon Arena to take on the North Carolina Central (NCCU) Eagles in the final matchup of the regular season, one that will decide an outright Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) regular season championship for either team.
For the Aggies, a win Thursday can notch the first regular season outright title in 28 years (1991-1992 season coached by Don Corbett). It would also mark the second time in the school’s history since joining the MEAC that a first-year head coach brought home a regular season title (Gene Littles in 1978).
In the last meeting between the two teams that took place in Corbett Sports Center, the Aggies won in convincing fashion by a score of 77-60 on ESPNU. Led by the 28-point effort of Senior Ron Jackson, the Aggies suffocated the Eagles on both ends, only allowing one player to score in double digits all night. The blue and gold bulldogs had a commanding victory in the first matchup, but rest assured that Head Coach Will Jones is directing his team’s focus to this one game and none in the past or future. Jones is still steadily preaching the motto he’s told his guys the entirety of 2020: “1-0. We’re focusing on one game.”
“It’s not about rivalries, it’s not about who we’re playing, it’s about how we’re playing”, states Coach Jones.
Not much is being altered in the method that has gotten the Aggies to the MEAC’s number one spot and the brink of a potential MEAC regular season title.
The four-game win streak since making the trip back from Florida clearly indicates the messaging has worked. Man-to-man defense for the entire 40 minutes, rebounding and pushing the ball on fast breaks, along with unselfish basketball, has put the Aggies atop the league this season in the win category. The athletes that the team bears throughout the entire depth chart has allowed for them to build confidence in matching up one-on-one with any team in the league, only allowing an average of 63.5 points per game on their 4-game streak.
The fast-paced highlight reel style of offense (averaging 71.5 ppg.) has caused fits for opponents, and when complimented by a high percentage of defensive stops it has shown to be virtually unstoppable. Led by floor general Kameron Langley (A&T’s all-time assists leader), backdoor cuts and pick and roll play have brought new life to NCAT basketball fans and given a reason to rejoice all year for their newly-coined “Dunkyard Dogs”.
The art of “knowing how to win” is a huge focus for the club, putting games away late and making the smart decision.
“The only thing we can take on the road with us is defense”, says Jones.
Forcing stops and success on the break can see the Aggies leaving victorious again on Thursday, although they face the big task of stopping MEAC leading scorer Jibri Blount (avg. 19.3 ppg.). The last time the two teams met in Greensboro, Blount was held to a mere 8 points while shooting 27% from the field due in large part to the efforts of Ron Jackson and Devin Haygood down low. The Aggies pride themselves on keeping points off of the board this year, as they’re ranked top two in the MEAC in steals and blocks. This can pose problems for a NCCU group that has struggled to put up numbers on offense all season, sitting at 8th in the MEAC dropping in 68 points per game.
The team faces a huge responsibility Thursday evening as they can end a near 3-decade regular season title drought in Greensboro. But the group is composed and poised as they head into hostile territory, starting with their leader.
“We have a team that can win in March, and the only pressure we have is to be the best version of us every game,” states Jones on the hype over the last game of the season.
Blue-and-Gold is confident and playing like the team to beat late in the college basketball season, and when at their best that has proven to be a very difficult bunch to overcome in any gym for 40 minutes.
Location: McDouglald-McClendon Arena, campus of North Carolina Central (Durham, NC)
Good, Better, Best Streak: Both teams enter the contest with 4-game winning streaks. NCCU is 11-0 at home this season. NCCU has won the past 3 MEAC Conference Tournaments and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament while only winning the regular season once during this run.
Honors & Milestones: NCCU’s Jibri Blount was named the MEAC Co-Player of the Week last week, the 5th time he received the honor during the MEAC conference season. NC A&T’s Kam Langley is tied for first in the country in triple-doubles (1 of 2 players with more than one). Langley is third in the country in assists (7.6 assists per game), and has had 10 double-digit assist games this year.