No. 16 North Carolina A&T shot 51.9 percent from the floor, twelve percentage points above its season average, outlasting fellow No. 16 seed Liberty, 73-72, in the opening game of the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday night.
A&T missed the front end of two separate one-and-one situations in the final 19 seconds, leaving the door open for Liberty to win it on the final possession. After Lamont Middleton missed a free throw for A&T with seven seconds to play, Liberty guard John Caleb Sanders drove the length of the floor but missed a contested layup as time expired. There was no foul called on the play.
Bruce Beckford led the way for A&T with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor. He added nine rebounds.
The Aggies now move on to play No. 1-seeded Louisville in Lexington, Ky., in the Round of 64. For as uncharacteristically hot as A&T was from the floor Tuesday in this victory, expect reality to strike against the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament. Louisville is a one of the best pressure teams in the country defensively and used that to storm back and beat Syracuse in the Big East tournament title game.
A&T will have its hands full with the backcourt of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who comprise one of the best back courts in the Big East, if not the country. The Aggies were able to shoot so well from the floor Tuesday mainly because of dribble penetration and their high-percentage shots at the basket, but that will likely change vs. Louisville. Cardinals’ center Gorgui Dieng is one of the nation’s best shot blockers and will clog the lane against A&T.