"Thus, what is one man's safety is another man's destruction."- Daniel Defoe
Game #9-166: North Carolina A&T at New Jersey Tech HighlandersDecember 13, 2012 7:30 pm
Fleisher Athletic Center
NEWARK, N.J.- Let the record show that if Thursday, Dec. 13 was the day that the college sports bubble finally burst, that I was nowhere near it.
In fact, I was about as far away from the epicenter as humanly possible.
I heard the news of the seven Big East non-football playing schools leaving the conference on the way to the Fleisher Center, home of New Jersey Tech. Geographically, I could see the Empire State Building clearly as I parked my car on campus. But in terms of Division I college basketball, I was in the Badlands.
I came not to bury or ridicule NJIT, we don't discriminate in our cult, we take even the poorest of Division I souls. Last season, I wrote Succeeding in Poverty about the nice season St. Francis Brooklyn was having, but NJIT probably had a collective chuckle if they read that.
"He thinks they're way below the poverty line? Has he seen our stuff?"
You obviously have to start with the Great West Conference, which will dissolve after the season, well because there's no one left. This season it has only five teams (Chicago St., Utah Valley, Houston Baptist, and Texas-Pan American the others), and obviously no automatic NCAA bid. Good luck getting top recruits that way.
Again, not trying to be mean or snobbish about it, but I've seen high school gyms with more modern technology and amenities than the Fleisher Center does. At one end was a bizarre open end like a field house, which might be the most bizarre shooting background in Division I. The gym had no padded scorers table, which freshman Ky Howard found out the hard way early in the second half. There was just one bleacher, opposite the team benches.
But, in the alternate universe we inhabit, those things (well, maybe not the lack of pads) make things much more interesting. There was a decent crowd, which is probably why NJIT thinks they can make it in Division I. Newark is obviously a large city with a professional arena downtown (home of the New Jersey Devils if they ever play again), and more than 7,000 undergraduate students in a nice urban campus.
Their opponents on this night, North Carolina A&T, know a little about dealing with relative poverty, a point driven home as their bus was one of the first things I saw when I arrived. The bus that drove all the way from Greensboro, N.C., for this game.
We don't get a chance to see the HBUC teams much here in the Northeast, and I thought back to an African-American professor I had in college by the name of Rick Wright. He was the faculty advisor for our student radio system, and would be an occasional guest on our sports talk show.
Inevitably, he would sneak in, "Can we talk about the MEAC and the SWAC here for a minute. I mean, North Carolina A&T, baby, they're doing some great things down there. Florida A&M, the Rattlers." And he said it with a Don King-type accent on the A&T or A&M.
Which led to a running joke at the station every time a North Carolina A&T or Florida A&M score would come over, usually on the receiving end of a lopsided loss in a guarantee game.
If you're never been to a city high school game, you're missing out. Not necessarily for the quality of the basketball, but just the intense atmosphere and close quarters of the fans.
You got that natural rush of adrenaline in this game, as the Aggies raced to an early lead, but didn't guard deadly shooter Ryan Woods very tightly in the first half, and paid the price. Woods had three superhoops and 11 points overall as the Highlanders (I didn't think the campus was all that high) took a 41-36 lead at the half in a game that didn't come close to needing a shot clock.
Because of the proximity of the fans, I happened to be sitting next to Woods' family, but also adjacent to some North Carolina A&T family members. Every time Woods would score, his younger sister would pump her fist, and every time the Aggies would do something well, there would be some "Oooos"
from their supporters. They weren't many, but in the small confines, the NJIT student section made themselves heard when they were on defense.
I must admit, I didn't know the Aggies first-year coach, Cy Alexander. It was pretty easy to figure out quickly Alexander is no youngster. He started as head coach at South Carolina State way back in 1987, going to five NCAA Tournaments (where I must have seen him there). But after the fifth title in 2003, Alexander left the HBUC world to take over at Tennessee State, where he had moderate success, but things went downhill in 2008-09, so badly that he was fired mid-season.
He immediately struck me as of the calm old-school coaches, he didn't make a peep through the first 10 minutes. By the time the second half started, he was up yelling and pointing and jumping. To be fair, his team responded, especially on the defensive end. After posting 41 in the first 20 minutes, the Highlanders scored just 10 in the first 16:23 of the second half.
(The Fleisher Center also had one of the more unique halftime competitions I've ever seen: bowling.)
North Carolina A&T didn't exactly catch fire, but led by a couple of semi-locals in senior Austin Witter from Princeton (13 rebounds) and junior Lamont Middleton from the Bronx (24 points), the Aggies led 66-56 with 2:37 remaining. However, NJIT was in an even worse spot two days before at the Fleisher Center before storming back to stun Army (moving them to 5-1 against teams below the Red Line), and it looked like a similar drama might be playing out here, as Woods' leaner made it 69-64 with 1:40 left.
But Witter had two of his eight blocks in the final minute, and his dunk with 20 seconds left sealed the deal for the Aggies, any road victory surely welcome for Alexander these days.
As the families and friends waited for the players to come out, I searched in vain for a donation box to help to poor NJIT athletic program, who - judging by their living conditions - could definitely use my spare change, it was the least I could do.
However, New Jersey Tech may have the last laugh here, and it may not take long. The nuclear fallout of conference realignment may take some time to settle, but in a move that wasn't as publicized as the breakup of the Big East, the MAAC - which lost Jimmy Patsos and Loyola to the Patriot League - added Quinnipiac and Monmouth from the NEC.
The NEC, with 10 members currently, could lose Wagner as well soon, which means that they may be looking. And when they peek outside their door Monday morning, they might see this guy jumping up and down with a big "Pick Me" sign.
NORTH CAROLINA A&T 76, at NEW JERSEY TECH 71
NORTH CAROLINA A&T 4-6 (0-1) -- A. Powell 5-11 3-7 16; L. Middleton 5-11 12-14 24; A. Witter 1-6 0-0 2; B. Beckford 3-9 1-3 7; J. Underwood 2-3 3-4 7; D. Upchurch 3-4 5-7 11; K. King 1-7 1-3 4; J. Louisme 1-3 0-0 3; R. Buck 0-0 0-0 0; C. Butler 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 22-56 25-38 76.
NEW JERSEY TECH 5-5 (0-0) -- R. Woods 7-18 3-4 23; C. Flores 5-15 2-2 15; P. Miller 2-8 2-5 6; D. Holiday 2-3 1-2 5; T. Smith 1-5 0-0 2; Q. Bastian 4-6 0-0 8; K. Howard 4-6 0-3 9; N. Sydnor 0-2 2-2 2; S. McCarthy 0-1 0-0 0; M. Farrell 0-0 0-0 0; O. Nweke 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-65 11-20 71.
Three-point goals: NCAT 7-15 (A. Powell 3-5; J. Louisme 1-3; K. King 1-4; L. Middleton 2-3), NJIT 10-22 (C. Flores 3-7; R. Woods 6-12; K. Howard 1-2; N. Sydnor 0-1); Rebounds: NCAT 44 (A. Witter 13), NJIT 33 (Q. Bastian 8); Assists: NCAT 14 (L. Middleton 4), NJIT 12 (P. Miller 7); Total Fouls -- NCAT 18, NJIT 26; Fouled Out: NCAT-None; NJIT-D. Holiday.
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