GREENSBORO, N.C., MAR. 4 -- North Carolina A&T, on the verge of blowing out Howard late in the second half, survived a potential game-tying three-point attempt with 18 seconds left and hung on for a 67-62 victory tonight in a semifinal game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.

North Carolina A&T's front line of center Kenny Cox and forwards Carleton Becton and Claude Williams scored 17, 16 and 15 points, respectively, but the Aggies did not breathe easy until Thomas Griffis made two free throws with 16 seconds to go.

The Aggies, the first team in the league's 16-year history to end the regular season undefeated, improved the country's second-best Division I independent record to 25-2. A&T advances to Saturday night's 7 p.m. championship against Florida A&M, a 64-59 semifinal winner over South Carolina State.

Howard (16-13) trailed by 53-41 with 8:56 to go, but rallied behind freshman Skip Bynum, a graduate of Friendly High School. He scored all 13 of his points in the last 14:39.

The Bison had their only chance to get even in the second half when Howard Spencer took a three-point shot with 18 seconds to go and A&T leading by 65-62, but the ball went off the front of the rim.

"It shocked me that they even had a chance to tie," said A&T Coach Don Corbett. "All I could do at that point was pray. We have had too many shots like that one go in against us over the years."

Howard came back in the final minutes, although its most consistent player, 6-foot-7 senior forward John Spencer, fouled out with 4:30 to go and the Aggies leading, 58-50.

Coach A.B. Williamson went with a smaller lineup that included the 6-2 Bynum, 6-foot Mike Rollins and 6-4 guard Jeff Holloman.

"I thought we could tie it and I set it up for a senior {Howard Spencer} to get the shot," said Williamson. "It was just what we wanted. It was a good shot; it just didn't go in."

A&T, which had swept both regular season games from Howard, entered tonight's game having won its last 14 and its last 14 MEAC tournament games since the 1981 championship game, in which it was beaten by Howard.

The Aggies and Bison had met in the previous seven MEAC title games, with A&T winning the last six. But even in seasons when the Aggies clearly had superior talent, Howard always made the title game competitive.

Never has the difference in pure ability between the two teams been as evident as this year, but again, the Bison were not pushovers for A&T in the tournament.

Despite John Spencer sitting out the final 4:49 of the first half with foul problems, A&T struggled to a 34-31 lead at intermission.

George Hamilton scored 14 first-half points, making six of seven shots from the field, and at one point scored eight straight Bison points.

Howard held guards Griffis and Corvin Davis, who came into the game averaging 13.4 and 12.6 points, respectively, to a combined one-of-nine shooting in the first half.

The Aggies did their damage inside. Williams had 10 points, Becton eight and 6-7 senior center Lee Robinson got in the game for eight points in the first half. The most telling first-half statistic was turnovers. Howard had 10, A&T one.

"We stuck with our game plan the whole way," said Bynum. "We wanted to take away their guards. We were giving it everything we had, but no matter how you lose, every loss hurts."

"This was one of the toughest games I ever played," Williams said. "You can never count Howard out. I think we are all happy just to have gotten out of this one."