North Carolina A&T makes history
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
DAYTON, Ohio — Armed with a trumpet and an active imagination, a Liberty University band member walked down the tunnel that led to the First Four floor an hour before tipoff.
He muttered about the outside world, how nobody thought much of his 20-loss Flames, how folks thought they wouldn’t care if they won or lost because they’d been lucky to make the NCAA tournament at all.
“But we do care,” he insisted, to himself more than anyone around him.
That much was evident as Liberty, the surprise winner of the Big South’s automatic bid, and North Carolina A&T, the surprise winner of the MEAC tournament wrestled to the game’s last second before A&T won 73-72.
In what should have come as no surprise after one of the most unpredictable regular seasons in recent memory, the first game of the NCAA tournament was nearly decided by a buzzer beater.
After a fairly even first half, the Flames had gone cold for most of the second, at one point scoring just one field goal in a nearly 10-minute stretch. But a combination of late 3-point baskets from John Caleb Sanders and Davon Marshall – and missed A&T free throws – brought Liberty within one point in the game’s final seconds. Sanders drove to the basket, missed what would have been the game-winning layup and prayed for a foul call. No whistle sounded, and the buzzer sounded for a one point Aggies victory, the first NCAA tournament win in 10 tries.
“This team never won before,” said North Carolina A&T coach Cy Alexander, in his first season. “When you work with a group of guys that hasn’t won, they don’t know that every play matters.”
So Alexander said he sometimes tries to play for them, animated on the sidelines, showing his guys what kind of energy it takes to win. He credited his senior class and the way it committed to defense and working hard as the key for the program’s quick turnaround.
“I’m pleased that everyone’s bought into what I wanted to with this program,” he said.
Tuesday night’s game wasn’t exactly a matchup of powerhouse programs; neither Liberty (15-21) … [For more on North Carolina A&T makes history with first NCAA tournament win over Liberty, click here.]