LAS VEGAS, November 22, 2008 â€“ The combination of losing a starter in practice to injury the day before, and losing your big man to foul trouble in the second half is a little too much to overcome when youâ€™re aÂ mid-major on the road trying to beat a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last season.
Despite the setbacks, the North Carolina A&T menâ€™s basketball team pushed UNLV to the limit before losing 71-58 at the Thomas & Mack Arena. Senior swingman Ed Jones led the Aggies with 18 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore forward Thomas Coleman added 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Aggies played without starting forward Robert Johnson, who sprained his ankle in practice on Friday.
â€œWe were playing people out of position all night,â€™â€™ said head coach Jerry Eaves. â€œIt really hurt the fluidity of our offense not having Robert in there. It really took away from what we like to do with our rotation. We just had a bad offensive flow in there without Robert.â€
Even without Johnson, the Aggies were competitive against the Running Rebels, a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
The Aggies trailed by just four at the half, 33-29. Coleman had 14 points and six boards on 7-for-7 shooting in the first half. But the Louisville, Ky., native picked up three quick fouls to open the second half, forcing him to the bench and thus damaging Eavesâ€™ rotation even more.
Coleman did help the Aggies take the lead in the second half, however. Coleman found a cutting Nic Wilson for a layup and a 45-44 Aggies advantage with 12 minutes remaining in the game. A Rene Rougeau jumper 11 seconds later put the Rebels back on top for good. Two quick Aggie fouls allowed the Rebels to connect on four consecutive free throws.
Mareceo Rutledge complemented those free throws with a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 53-45 lead. Treâ€™von Willisâ€™ three gave the Rebels their biggest lead of the game at 56-45 with 9:16 to play. The Aggies were able to get the lead down to six, 57-51, with 6:26 to play. But the Rebels went on a 10-2 run to put the Aggies away for good.
â€œWeâ€™re getting better,â€™â€™ said Eaves, who saw his team shoot just 7-for-16 from the free throw line. â€œItâ€™s just hard to win on someone elseâ€™s court, especially in the environment we played in tonight. But we are good enough to win some of these games. We just have to do the things necessary to win these kinds of games.â€
The Aggies (2-2) head Berkley, Calif., to face the Cal Bears Monday night at 10:30. The Rebels were led by Wink Adamsâ€™ 19 points.
*****from Brian Holloway, NC A&T Sports Iniformation*****Â