North Carolina A&T's men's basketball team has had a rocky road in the current season. On Monday, February 13, 2023, the Aggies lost their second straight game and their fourth loss in five games. This time, the Monmouth Hawks defeated them 85-71 in a game held at the OceanFirst Bank Center.
The loss dropped the Aggies to 12-16 overall, and 7-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), a college sports conference comprising mostly schools from the Northeastern United States. The Aggies' recent performance puts them in a precarious situation as they approach the CAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament in just two and a half weeks.
At this point, the Aggies could go either way. They could move up to the top half of the conference, or they could plummet to near the bottom, depending on the results of their final three regular-season games. Meanwhile, the Monmouth Hawks, with five wins in their last six games, could leapfrog the Aggies in the standings, although they remain well behind in the overall win-loss record, with a current season record of 6-21.
The game against Monmouth was not without its shining moments for the Aggies, who gave it their all, but could not match up to their opponents in the end. Kam Woods, a sophomore guard, was a standout player for the Aggies, hitting all 12 free throw attempts and finishing with 24 points. It marked his ninth 20-point-plus scoring game of the season, and his first since scoring 29 against Towson on January 19.
Redshirt freshman, Duncan Powell also put in a good performance, adding 17 points and eight rebounds on 6-for-7 shooting from the line. The Aggies shot a season-best 91.3 percent (21-for-23) from the line, a commendable feat that could not win them the game.
The game started with a 3-pointer from sophomore A&T guard Love Bettis that gave A&T a 23-21 lead with six minutes to play in the first half. However, the Hawks responded with an 11-2 run to take a 32-25 lead. Senior guard Demetric Horton broke up the run with a jumper, but the Hawks went on another spurt, outscoring the Aggies 8-2 over the final 2 and a half minutes of the half to take a 40-29 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Aggies tried to make a comeback in the second half. Monmouth increased their lead to 13, 44-31, over the first 90 seconds of the half before A&T regained its footing. Horton hit a three, followed by two Woods free throws to get the Aggies to within eight. Junior wing Marcus Watson then grabbed a rebound and got the Aggies into transition, where he found Powell on the break for a layup to make the Aggies deficit only six.
After Watson made a free throw, Horton became the next Aggie to find Powell on the break for a layup as A&T completed a 10-0 run to cut Monmouth's advantage to 44-41 with 16:06 remaining in the game. But the Aggies could not maintain their momentum, and they connected on only one field goal over the next six minutes. In contrast, Monmouth went 6-for-10 from the floor over the same span, extending their lead to 57-45 with 10 minutes left to play.
Despite the Aggies' best efforts, they never managed to get the lead under double digits for the remainder of the game. Horton added 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 2-for-4 shooting from 3-point range, while Klemen Vuga contributed 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting for the Hawks. In sweeping the Aggies this season, Monmouth shot a combined 51.9 percent from the floor.
With the loss, the Aggies dropped to 12-16 overall and 7-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), losing their second straight game and their fourth time in five games. The Hawks, on the other hand, won for the fifth time in six games to improve to 6-21 overall and 5-9 in the conference. The Aggies are now in a precarious position, as the CAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament approaches in 2 ½ weeks. Depending on the results of their final three regular-season games, they could go from the top half of the conference to near the bottom. Meanwhile, the Hawks are a team that could leapfrog the Aggies in the standings.
A&T sophomore guard Kam Woods had an impressive game, hitting all 12 free throw attempts to finish with 24 points. It marked his ninth 20-point-plus scoring game of the season and his first since scoring 29 against Towson on Jan. 19. Redshirt freshman Duncan Powell added 17 points and eight rebounds on 6-for-7 shooting from the line as the Aggies shot a season-best 91.3 percent (21-for-23) from the line. It was a commendable effort by the Aggies, but they were simply outmatched by a determined Monmouth team.
The loss to Monmouth highlighted some of the issues that have plagued the Aggies throughout the season. Inconsistent performances and an inability to sustain momentum have resulted in missed opportunities and costly losses. The team's defense has also been a concern, as they have allowed their opponents to shoot a combined 48.2 percent from the field, including 36.9 percent from beyond the arc. In addition, turnovers have been a problem for the Aggies, as they have given the ball away an average of 13.5 times per game.
Despite these challenges, there are still some positives for the Aggies. Woods has emerged as one of the team's top performers, leading the team in scoring with an average of 15.8 points per game. He has also been solid from the free-throw line, shooting 82.7 percent on the season. Powell has also shown promise, averaging 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. The Aggies also have a deep roster, with several players capable of making significant contributions.
As the Aggies head to Towson on Saturday for a 4 p.m. tip against the Tigers, they face a situation where five of the seven teams below them in the standings have nine losses. The alternative is for the Aggies to stay in the top half of the CAA, where they have been able to stay despite their current downturn. To do so, they will need to address some of their weaknesses and find ways to play more consistently. If they can do that, they have a chance to make a strong showing in the CAA Men's Basketball Championship Tournament