1st place NCCU eyes top seed for MEAC Tournament

Feb. 14, 2014 @ 06:56 PM

Balanced scoring and every Eagle holding his own defensively has N.C. Central controlling its destiny in first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Seeding in the MEAC Tournament is on the line as conference members head down the backstretch of the season. An NCCU win tonight at South Carolina State (6 p.m.) gets the Eagles closer to a prime spot in the conference tourney at Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va., where the winner picks up the league’s lone ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

S.C. State lost its last two games and hasn’t played in a week.

The Bulldogs (8-15, 4-6 MEAC) did upset Norfolk State on Jan. 25 behind 23 points from senior point guard Adama Adams, who was 17 for 17 from the free-throw line.

S.C. State center Matthew Hezekiah (6-11, 225) is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points per game and shooting 55.5 percent from the field, fourth-best in the MEAC.

NCCU (18-5, 9-1 MEAC) will look to contain Hezekiah this evening (99.9 HD3 The Ticket, NCCUEaglePride.com).

The Eagles aren’t afraid to play defense. Teams are shooting 37.8 percent against NCCU, which is giving up 59.7 points per game. It’s the best defense in the league.

“We’ve just got to go down there with the same mentality as we do in our own house and come out with fire,” NCCU senior Jeremy Ingram said.

NCCU has 21 consecutive home wins. The Bulldogs actually get the first shot at snapping that streak when they come to McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium for a March 1 rematch with the Eagles, who prior to that will be on the road for games against Savannah State, N.C. A&T and New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Ingram is the No. 3 scorer in the MEAC at 18.6 points per game. For a while, Ingram was the league’s top scorer and even spent some time as the No. 3 scorer in Division I basketball.

A scoring slump ate away at Ingram’s point production, but his teammates picked up the slack and NCCU kept winning, while they all clamped down on defense.

“To be a great team, you have to make sacrifices,” Ingram said. “Other people getting involved (offensively), that’s going to help us win championships. Me just scoring the ball isn’t going to help us win championships, because if I’m off, who’s going to pick us up?

“We just want to win. I could care less about points.”

Winning at the Bulldogs’ place could be challenging, NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center down there in Orangeburg, S.C., will be jumping, he said.

“It’s a tough place to play,” Moton said. “It’s a little gym that gets really hostile and really loud, and I’m sure they’ll have it turned up on 100 when we’re there.”