NC A&T went into Wednesday night’s home game against Charleston Southern without starters Colin Smith and Marcus Watson looking to break a five-game losing streak.
The Aggies struggled to find any rhythm early, were down by as much as eight points in the first half. They rallied to lead 26-23 at the break and then turned up the defensive screws in the second half to come away with a 62-51 win.
“I thought the guys battled and played hard for 40 minutes,” victorious head coach Will Jones said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get off that adversity bus, but I thought we got off that adversity bus tonight and got a W. So I’m proud of the guys,”
NC A&T defense comes through
The key to the win, Jones said, was defense, particularly defending the 3-point line. CSU made just 3 of 31 shots (14.3%) from behind the arc and shot just 17 of 52 (32.7%) from the field.
“I thought we guarded the 3-point line,” Jones said. “We’ve been getting destroyed there. We made some adjustments in terms of how we guard the 3-point line. Charleston Southern is maybe top ten in the country in 3-pointers taken. So, to hold them to 3 for 21, I thought we guarded them, made every shot tough. That was our goal.”
Langley returns as star
Career NC A&T and MEAC assist record holder Kam Langley, who has started the past two games with Watson out, was the only Aggie to score in double-digits with 13 points. He added five steals and an assist.
Freshman Jaylen Jackson came off the bench to get key buckets as CSU came back from an 11-point second-half A&T lead to tie the score at 40 with 7:18 to play. Graduate senior Justin Whatley had nine points including a clutch 3-pointer with 3:59 left that allowed the Aggies to go up 51-46. Jackson scored six of his seven points down the stretch including a key dunk off a feed from Demetric Horton with 2:29 to play that put the Aggies up 53-49.
“I thought Kam showed outstanding leadership today,” Jones said. “He scored the basketball and also distributed it.”
“I’m really excited about Jalen Jackson, what he brought in the second half as a freshman. There were definitely some bright spots there.”
Backcourt mates and CSU scoring leaders Claudell Harris Jr. and Tahlik Chavez both had 13 points to lead the Bucs (1-10, 5-19). The pair shot a combined 7 of 29 from the field and 3 of 14 on 3-pointers.
The win moves the Aggies to 5-6 in Big South play, currently in fourth place in the six-team North Division. They will face division leader Longwood, who is 9-0 in the North, on Saturday (4 p.m.) at Club Corbett. NC A&T squandered a 12-point second-half lead at Longwood in their first meeting on Jan. 26 before fallling 79-71.
The game will reunite Langley with former NC Central point guard Jordan Perkins, a grad senior at Longwood. Langley and Perkins are former AAU teammates and high school rivals in Greensboro.
Collin Smith is out with an injury and Jones said Marcus Watson was dealing with some “personal things” but would be back practicing with the team on Sunday. “He should be ready for the Hampton (Feb. 16) trip,” Jones said.