AGGIES RETURN TO MEAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

After 15 years without a winning record, the North Carolina A&T State University men’s basketball team will return to the MEAC Tournament Championship game.

The Aggies will face the Morgan State University Bears at the Norfolk Scope Arena at 5:03 p.m., Saturday. The game will be televised live on ESPNU.

Friday night, the Aggies defeated the Delaware State University Hornets 84-78 to advance to the championship in Coach Cy Alexander’s first season as head coach.

“I felt like there were some things in my career I still had not accomplished,” said Alexander, who is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win.

“I felt this was the perfect program to accomplish those things because they have a fan base that is hungry to win again. They know what winning feels like, so I felt like the support was here to return this program back to its winning tradition.”

For many years, A&T fans walked around with their chests out and their heads held high as N.C. A&T tormented the rest of the men’s basketball teams in the MEAC. The Aggies dominated the MEAC Tournament in the 70s, 80s and the early 90s winning a record 15 tournament titles in that span – including seven straight from 1982-88.

A&T’s seven straight conference tournament titles is still an NCAA record they share with the University of Kentucky. Starting in the late 90s, hard times fell upon the program. A&T went 15 straight seasons without a winning record, including a miserable 1-26 season in 2001-02.

In April, Alexander was hired to coach the A&T men’s basketball program, which included five seniors who had not experienced many successes in the postseason. A&T’s five four-year seniors – Austin Witter, Adrian Powell, Lawrence Smith, R.J. Buck and DaMetrius Upchurch – had never advanced beyond the MEAC Tournament quarterfinals. In fact, they had only one tournament win going into the 2013 MEAC Tournament.

“This means so much to us,” said Powell, who became the 28th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points after scoring 23 on Friday.

“This is the farthest we’ve all been since we got here. We all put in the work this summer to put ourselves in this situation. We now just have to finish it up tomorrow.”

Powell and his teammates secured the Aggies (18-16) first winning season in 15 years with the win. A&T is back in the championship game for the first time since 1997. The Aggies are looking for their first MEAC title since 1995. A win on Saturday will also put the Aggies in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years.

Alexander is no stranger to winning. In 16 years as South Carolina State’s head coach (1987-03), Alexander became the standard-bearer among MEAC coaches. He won MEAC titles in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2003, while leading the Bulldogs to eight championship game appearances. After the 2002-03 season, he accepted the head coaching position at Tennessee State. In his six seasons at TSU, he did not come close to equaling the success he had in Orangeburg, S.C. He left the Tigers program in 2009.

A&T fans know they’re one step away from being back on top of the MEAC as Alexander is back to his winning ways in the MEAC and the five seniors have put aside their past failures.

Saturday will mark the MEAC’s 42nd title game. Alexander has been a part of almost half of those games. He reached the championship 10 times as an assistant coach at Howard and Saturday will be his ninth appearance as a head coach. Alexander will enter Saturday’s game with more MEAC Tournament wins than any other head coach in history. He picked up his 30th tournament win on Saturday, passing Coppin State coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell.