For the first time in 18 years, the North Carolina A&T State University Aggie men’s basketball team has been invited to compete in the NCAA Basketball tournament – The Big Dance.

On Saturday, the Aggies defeated the Morgan State University Bears 57-54 to win the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference basketball tournament. This is the university’s 16th MEAC title, the most in conference history. Saturday’s win marks coach Cy Alexander’s sixth MEAC title as a head coach and his first with N.C. A&T.

“I think no one in our program ever stopped believing regardless of all the ups and downs,” Alexander said.

The conference championship victory gave the Aggies one of 27 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. A&T awaits the announcement of its destination for tournament play.

Senior Austin Witter has been practicing and playing in Corbett Sports Center for four years.  Each time he looked in the rafters he saw the years marking A&T’s 15 MEAC championships. One thing he noticed is those years didn’t extend into this millennium.

“It’s great to look up there and see all the history,” he said. “It’s great to look up there and see all the championships. But then it just stops. There is nothing that comes after 1995. I’ve always wanted to change that.”

Now thanks to Witter’s record-breaking season along with the tenacious play of his teammates and the constant encouragement from his coaches, the team will have a banner raised in its honor in Corbett Sports Center.

“Nobody believed in us,” said senior Adrian Powell, tournament most valuable player. “There were times when are our own students and fans were tough on us. But coach told us it was important that everyone in our locker room stay together and stay committed. There are times when you have to believe in yourself when no one else does.”

The Aggies entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed out of 13 teams with a losing record at 15-16. They opened the tournament with a win over 10th-seeded Florida A&M, their third win over the Rattlers this season.

In round 2 of play, all four of the tournament’s top seeds were defeated, including the Aggies win over arch rival N.C. Central, 55-42. In the third round, the Aggies claimed a 6-point victory over the Delaware State University Hornets to compete in the MEAC championship game.

While this is Alexander’s first year as head coach at A&T, he has made more history of his own. He now has a league best 31 MEAC Tournament wins and became the third Aggies head coach to win the MEAC title in his first year in Aggieland, joining Jeff Capel (1994) and Roy Thomas (1995).