Despite bad ending, 2012-13 was a solid season for N.C. Central
From Day 1, N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton insisted that the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is a mean and cruel league full of teams capable of sending each other to the canvas.
On Wednesday during the quarterfinals of the MEAC Tournament in Scope Arena, N.C. A&T knocked out rival NCCU on the same night Bethune-Cookman used overtime to eliminate Norfolk State.
Norfolk State hadn’t lost a single game during the regular season in the MEAC, finishing in first place.
And prior to NCCU’s tip against A&T, Moton was presented with a trophy recognizing the Eagles as regular-season runner-ups in the conference.
NCCU was beaten 55-42 by No. 7 seed A&T, a .500 team when the tournament started.
The Eagles, on the other hand, won 22 games this season, meeting the 20-win benchmark often regarded as the standard for success in college basketball.
NCCU could have left Norfolk with the MEAC’s lone admission ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning the league tournament. It would have been NCCU’s first time in the Big Dance, yet it all seemed to come to an end so fast.
“We’re certainly not going to allow a three-day tournament to (detract) from what we’ve accomplished, because when you look back on it, these kids lost two (conference) games in 2013, so that’s something that they can be proud of,” Moton said. “They’ve also had the opportunity to win 22 games. We came up short. All things happen for a reason. We’ll take from this and we’ll learn, and we’ll come back better.”
NCCU was on the attack at the beginning of the game against A&T but then started settling for jumpers that weren’t going in — just like the 14 free throws the Eagles missed.
Moton said NCCU was getting stops on defense in the first half but not doing much with them.
“I counted nine fast-break opportunities. We didn’t convert but one of them,” Moton said. “We were running wild. We weren’t running in our lanes. We weren’t running our secondary break properly, and that’s me. I just didn’t work on it enough for these guys to be prepared for this type of environment.”
Moton said he did a poor job of getting the Eagles to calm down, which led not only to missed free throws but resulted in NCCU’s players fouling A&T’s 3-point shooters.
“That’s nerves,” Moton said.
The Eagles had a dreadful shooting night, and A&T wasn’t much better, but, Moton said, the Aggies made their free throws and used that to find some rhythm that carried over to the field.
“That’s unfortunate,” Moton said.
A&T ended the college career of NCCU senior Ray Willis (5 points, 6 rebounds). It wasn’t a great night for Willis, who was 2 of 11 from the field and never got to the foul line despite being the best free-throw shooter in the MEAC at 84 percent from the stripe.
But Willis, like his coach, wouldn’t allow one game to define what NCCU did this season in going 22-9 in its second campaign as a Division I basketball program.
“When you go out there and you play together, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish as a unit,” Willis said.
“We’ve been fortunate to win in a plethora of ways this year,” Moton said. “I know they gave us a trophy and all of that good stuff before the game, but we weren’t a dominant team this year. We played 20 games this way, (and) we just came out on the top end of them. We weren’t the team to just walk out there and blow you out of the gym by 35.”
Another look at Wednesday night's MEAC first-round game ...
|NC A&T 55, NC CENTRAL 42|
Percentages: FG .366, FT .676.
3-Point Goals: 2-14, .143 (Louisme 1-3, Witter 1-5, Middleton 0-2, Powell 0-2, Underwood 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Witter 3, Upchurch).
Turnovers: 14 (Middleton 4, Upchurch 2, Powell 2, Underwood 2, Louisme 2, Beckford, Witter).
Steals: 7 (Powell 2, Middleton 2, Louisme, Witter, Underwood).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .226, FT .462.
3-Point Goals: 6-25, .240 (Ingram 2-11, Ferguson 1-2, Kidd 1-2, Houston 1-2, Willis 1-5, Chapman 0-1, Galaya 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 8.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Chapman, Ingram).
Turnovers: 17 (Willis 4, Copeland 2, Jawara 2, Ferguson 2, Houston 2, Chapman 2, Kidd, Galaya, Ingram).
Steals: 1 (Ferguson).
Technical Fouls: None.