OREM — Utah Valley University saw five players reach double figures as it fended off a resilient North Carolina A&T, 78-71, on Monday night at the UCCU Center.
Guard Holton Hunsaker led UVU (2-0) with 16 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists. Fellow senior Ben Aird recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Mitch Bruneel added 14 points and five boards to lift the Wolverines to their first 2-0 start since the 2008-09 season.
In a game that saw 51 fouls whistled, UVU made 27-of-40 free throws. Meanwhile, A&T (1-1) shot 23 free throws but only converted 13.
Utah Valley led for the majority first half, and the lead eventually reached double-digits just over a minute into the second period when Nelson capped a 6-0 burst out of the intermission with two free throws to make the score 41-31. Nelson had opened the scoring in the half with a dunk along the baseline before Aird converted a pair of free throws.
The advantage grew to as many as 12 on a pair of occasions earlier in the period, but A&T kept things interesting. Senior guard Lamont Middleton, who led the Aggies with a game-high 19 points on the night, brought the visitors to within five after dropping in a lay-in while being fouled. Middleton sank the ensuing free throw to cut UVU's lead to 52-47 with 11 minutes to go.
Middleton also snatched 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
An empty Wolverine possession gave the ball back to A&T with a chance to make it a one-score game, but Garrity came up with a steal and buried a transition jumper on the other end to put UVU back up seven. But back came the Aggies, responding with a triple from Jeremy Underwood to make the score 54-50 — UVU's smallest lead since 2:09 to go in the first half — with 10 minutes still to play.
The Aggies eventually found their way back at the 6:42 mark when Middleton got all the way to the rack for a lay-in. The bucket, which followed back-to-back empty Wolverine offensive trips, finished a 6-0 run and put A&T within a possession at 57-56.
Ten of the next 14 points belonged to Utah Valley as the Wolverines won back some breathing room at 67-60. A three-point play from Garrity and a trey from Hunsaker helped fuel the spurt.
But in keeping with the basic storyline of the half, A&T responded yet again when Bruce Beckford hit a 17-footer from the wing. That would prove to be the final Aggie push, however, as the Wolverines got another three from Hunsaker and a put-back from Aird to run the lead back to 10 at 72-62 with just over two minutes to play.
A&T kept things interesting in the final minute with a couple buckets and a made three, but the Wolverines never lost control. Bruneel added an exclamation point with a two-handed dunk in transition, while Nelson iced the game with two free throws over the final 45 seconds.
Points came at a premium early for the Wolverines who went the first 5:17 without a basket. In that time, A&T grabbed a slim 6-0 advantage as it battled through its own early shooting woes at just 2-of-6 from the field. But Keawe Enos got the home team on the board with a jumper at 14:43 and what followed was a 16-4 spurt that put the Wolverines ahead, 16-10, at the half's midway point.
UVU scored 10 points in the paint during the run on its way to 14 in the three-second area for the half.
A&T gradually worked its way to within three just shy of the 4:00 mark after a quick 9-2 run powered by three consecutive buckets inside. But it was the Wolverines taking a seven-point advantage into the locker room as the first period decelerated to a free-throw shooting contest. UVU's final nine points of the half came from the charity stripe to comprise a 7-3 run that put it ahead, 35-28, at halftime.
Utah Valley will have a short time to enjoy this win as it boards a plane for Stillwater, Okla., early Tuesday morning. The Wolverines are back in action that night when they face eighth-ranked Oklahoma State at the famed Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys are 1-0 on the young season and boast guard Marcus Smart, a preseason National Player of the Year candidate. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. MT, and will be televised on Fox College Sports Central. Fans can also tune into the game on 960 AM The Zone.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.