GREENSBORO N. C. – There were plenty of fireworks Wednesday as the NC A&T men battled Hampton on the hardwood for the first time with both as members of the Big South Conference.
The game between the former MEAC members and rivals was full of starts and stops. The play from both teams was uneven at best. When all the smoke cleared – and there was some smoke – NC A&T (8-9) prevailed with a 67-59 win to move to 3-0 in the young Big South season.
The close final score tells little of what transpired.
NC A&T party at ‘Club Corbett’
NC A&T students recently returned to campus after the Christmas break and that resulted In a packed house at Ellis F. Corbett Sports Arena, a place dubbed ‘Club Corbett’ because of its raucous atmosphere. One magazine dubbed it the seventh toughest place to play in college basketball. The venue includes a rowdy section labelled ‘The Dawg Pound.’
The place was, as they say, ‘lit’ or is it ‘crunk,’ with music blaring and the whole crowd on its feet swaying, dancing and singing along with a DJ and MC that kept the crowd hyped. The teams had not met since Hampton departed the MEAC to join the Big South in 2018. NC A&T joined their former rivals in the league this season. The confrontation was combustible.
“Definitely, we rekindled the relationship with Hampton tonight,” NC A&T head coach Will Jones said after the game.
A lot to review
The game included eight technical fouls, three ejections, including a fan tossed from the stands, a near on-court melee and bench-clearing brawl and a plethora of replay reviews by the officials. Big South officials will certainly be reviewing the tape. Suspensions for players leaving the bench and the near on-court melee are more than likely.
The game itself, not so interesting.
Each team shot under 35% from the field, under 26% from 3-point range, right around 50% from the line. Each had more turnovers than assists. NC A&T graduate reserve guard Tyler Maye had a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds, to lead the Aggies. Junior forward Jeremy Robinson added 11 points off the bench.
Howard transfer Raymond Bethea Jr., led the Pirates (4-9, 0-2) with 21 points and 10 boards.
The Aggies doubled the listless visiting Pirates off the boards in the first half, 36 to 18, including snatching 17 caroms off the offensive glass. The repeated second and third chances led to a 39-22 NC A&T halftime lead.
The fireworks begin
That lead grew to 25, 59-34 with 11:52 left in the second half, before the fireworks started.
It was triggered when A&T’s Demetric Horton, tried to swat a dead-ball breakaway dunk attempt by Hampton’s Najee Garvin, the Pirates leading scorer at 15.8 points per game. Horton connected with Garvin’s head on the play prompting Garvin to give Horton a hard push in retaliation.
That resulted in both teams rushing the court and players having to be separated by coaches and officials. After a near eight-minute review by officials, A&T reserve Duncan Powell, who came racing off the bench to confront Garvin, and Garvin both received technical fouls and were ejected. Horton, Marcus Watson and Justin Whatley of NC A&T also got technical fouls as did Hampton’s Russell Dean and DeAngelo Epps.
Two minutes after play resumed, Epps was ejected when officials realized he had received a second technical. On a trip downcourt a few plays later, one official stopped play to have a fan removed.
“I knew it was going to be a chippy game,” said Jones. “Najee Garvin is a really good player. He has a lot of antics. And you could tell he hasn’t played in a whole lot of HBCU environments because they’ve been in the Big South for four years. So our crowd in here tonight probably agitated him a little bit and he did some uncharacteristic things. He’s a good player for them and he’s going to be a good player for them going down the road.”
Pirates make late run
With Garvin out, the Pirates seemingly came to life. Led by ten points from Bethea and a slew of misses by the Aggies, Hampton went on a 19-1 run to cut the A&T lead to 60-53 on a 3-pointer by Marquis Goodwin with 4:31 left. That was as close as they got.
“I thought we came out with the right energy,” Jones said. “It’s really good to be 3-0 in the Big South. Overall, I thought the guys did what we needed to do to be 1-0 tonight. We have to build on that and be ready for Saturday.”
The Aggies will play at High Point Saturday (7 p.m.) in another Big South match-up. It will be the Aggies first Big South game at the Panthers new 5,000-seat Quebin Arena and Conference Center. The $170 million facility opened in October.
Hampton hosts Presbyterian Saturday (5:30 p.m.).