GREENSBORO — N.C. A&T just won its 19th straight MEAC home basketball game, improved to 5-1 in the conference, and won its fifth game in its past seven, and all it wanted to talk about was improving.
“We just need to continue to get better,” said associate head coach Will Jones after the Aggies (5-1 MEAC, 9-12) hung on for a tense 98-95 win over Bethune Cookman (3-3, 9-11) on Saturday. “I don’t think we have scratched the surface of where we can be in late February and early March.”
Jones took over as head coach of the Aggies on Dec. 27 when Jay Joyner was suspended by the school for undisclosed reasons. Jones is in his fifth season with the Aggies.
After losing his debut 95-64 to Illinois, Jones guided the Aggies to five wins in their next six games, all MEAC contests. A Jan. 18 loss to Coppin State is the only blemish on A&T’s conference record.
“We just stayed together as a family and stayed positive,” said senior Ronald Jackson, who led the Aggies with 17 points and 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season.
“Coach Joyner and Coach Jones have given us the blueprint; we just need to follow it now.”
Bethune-Cookman provided a stern test for A&T. The score was tied nine times in the first half and the lead changed five times. Neither team held more than a six-point lead, and at the end of the half, A&T led by three, 48-45.
There were 15 lead changes overall, and the game was tied 13 times.
The Wildcats’ cause, however, was aided by Aggies mistakes. The Wildcats got 18 points from A&T turnovers and the Aggies were only 14-for-26 from the free throw line in the first half. For the game, A&T was 27-for-46 from the line.
“Free throws are something we are dealing with right now,” said Jones. “It’s one of the areas we have to improve. If we hit our free throws, we are not in a dog fight at the end of the game.”
There were 10 more lead changes in the second half, but the last lead change belonged to A&T.
“Any win is a good win, especially one against an upper-echelon conference team like Bethune Cookman,” said Jones. “But we have to get better at things like holding leads, and we need to cut down on defensive mistakes.”
A&T had to play down the stretch without Jackson, who fouled out with 1:21 to play and the Aggies holding a three-point lead. But Kameron Langley, the junior guard from Southwest Guilford, had two crucial baskets in the last 40 seconds to hold the lead.
Langley also contributed a double-double with 16 points and 12 assists.
“A game like this helps us learn how to win close games,” said Jones. “That will be important as we go forward.”
The win over the Wildcats was the first of four straight home games for the Aggies. A&T will be looking for its 20th straight home conference win on Monday against Delaware State.
“I love playing at home,” said Jackson of the advantage he and his teammates enjoy in the Corbett Center. “We have some of the best fans in the country and it gets loud. If you do something good, they let you know. If you do something bad, they let you know, too.”