DAYTON, Ohio – After more than 30 years of trying, North Carolina A&T finally has an NCAA men’s basketball tournament win.
To do it, the Aggies had to survive one last, harrowing, close call.
Substitute guard Jeremy Underwood tripled his average with 19 points, leading the Aggies (20-16) past resilient Liberty 73-72 on Tuesday at the First Four to win their first NCAA game after nine losses.
They now have a date with top-seeded Louisville (29-5) on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
“It’s been a long time,” first-year Aggies coach Cy Alexander said.
It could have been pushed back even longer. The Flames (15-21) – only the second team ever to make the NCAA tournament with 20 losses – had a chance to win in the final seconds.
John Caleb Sanders drove coast to coast after an A&T missed free throw and flipped up a left-handed layup in heavy traffice that glanced off the glass.
“I knew he was going to go to the rim, and I just wanted to play off of him,” A&T defensive star Austin Witter said. “I just tried to keep my hands back, and use my length to alter the shot. I believe I got a little piece of it, but I’m not really sure.
“I think I did just enough to get it off” target.
Sanders was trying to draw a foul as much as make the frantic shot.
“We’ve had a lot of late-game situations similar to that, and Coach (Dale Layer) has always said to take it to the rim,” Sanders said. “They took away my right hand, so I went left and tried to get to the basket, and it just didn’t fall.”
Underwood was perfect, a career-best 6 for 6 from the field. Bruce Beckford added 16 points and Lamont Middleton 14.
Davon Marshall had 22 and Sanders 21 for Liberty.