North Carolina A&T back as king of MEAC again

March 14, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

The North Carolina A&T Aggies returned to once-familiar ground last night.

The Aggies ruled the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference during the 1980s, and in the second half of the MEAC tournament championship game, they controlled South Carolina State over the final 15 minutes while rolling to an 87-70 victory before 3,642 at the Baltimore Arena.

The Aggies (16-13) won their 14th MEAC tournament and qualified automatically for the NCAA tournament as the 16th seed in the Midwest Region. They will make their eighth national tournament appearance in Oklahoma City on Friday against top-seeded, No. 1-ranked Arkansas.

North Carolina A&T made its first trip to the MEAC title game since 1988, the year the Aggies won their seventh consecutive conference crown. Sparked by junior guard Phillip Allen, the Aggies won for the 14th time in 18 attempts.

And the Aggies are headed to the big tournament after stumbling to a 2-9 start.

"I've been in basketball for 17 years, and this is the best group of kids I've worked with," said Jeff Capel, N.C. A&T's first-year coach. "When everyone else turned their backs on them, they still believed in themselves."

The Aggies certainly believe in Allen, their leading scorer who was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Last night, he overcame foul trouble to score a team-high 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-8 from three-point range. His 25 minutes also included six rebounds. And he sparked the Aggies on a decisive, second-half run.

The Aggies needed Allen to erase an early 17-8 deficit and take a 42-39 halftime lead. Four minutes into the second half, with North Carolina A&T leading, 49-46, Allen hit a pair of three-pointers to extend the lead to 55-48.

Two possessions later, he converted a fast-break, reverse layup to give the Aggies a 59-48 lead with 13:26 left in the game, prompting South Carolina State coach Cy Alexander to call a timeout.

"I could smell it [victory] then. I could see it in my teammates eyes that we were going to win," said Allen, who scored 59 points on 22-for-49 shooting in the tournament, while adding 13 rebounds, nine steals and eight assists.

"I knew as long as we kept up our defensive pressure, they [South Carolina State] would crack," added Allen, who recalled the year's early struggles, which were highlighted by the disciplinary dismissal of star forward Jamaine Williams six games into the season. "It shows the character of this team. I knew we would come around sooner or later."

The Aggies came around completely in the second half. Their defense put the clamps on the Bulldogs (16-13), limiting them to 31.6 percent shooting after the break and holding forward Miguel Burns (14 points) scoreless after the first half.

North Carolina A&T's bench also filled in nicely for Allen. Anthony Jones and Brian Seagraves combined to outscore the South Carolina State bench, 18-0.

Following the Bulldogs' timeout, they were able to cut the Aggies' lead to 65-58 on a three-pointer by Deon Murray (19 points) with 9:15 left. But N.C. A&T quickly scored the next five points -- the final basket on a tip-in by MEAC Rookie of the Year Joe Bunn (11 points) -- to make it 70-58 with 7:53 to go.

North Carolina A&T then broke the game open. After Tyrone Brice hit a short jumper for the Aggies, the Bulldogs missed, then committed an intentional foul as John Floyd was headed for a fast-break dunk. Floyd, who also scored a game-high 21 points -- 14 in the first half -- hit both free throws. The Aggies retained possession, and Allen sank a 15-foot baseline jumper to give N.C. A&T a 78-62 lead with 3:14 left.

The Bulldogs never threatened after that.

"People probably think we don't have a chance [against Arkansas]," Allen said. "Well, it might be the greatest upset in NCAA history."

Bunn was also named to the All-Tournament first team. Zack Allison (UMES), Chico Langston (Morgan State) and Bernard Toatley, who scored 19 last night for South Carolina State, also made the team.

MEAC TOURNAMENT

FRIDAY

Quarterfinals

Morgan State 61, Coppin State 60

UMES 91, Delaware State 76

N.C. A&T 61, Howard 57

S.C. State 73, B.-Cookman 69

SATURDAY

Semifinals

N.C. A&T 76, UMES 73

S.C. St. 69, Morgan St. 63

YESTERDAY

Championship

N.C. A&T 87, S.C. St. 70

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