Eagles face Aggies in early test
Style over substance is not the way to describe N.C. Central senior guard Ray Willis.
He’d just as soon put on some older, rather worn shoes to do his thing on the basketball floor as sport new sneakers.
“They’re broken in,” Willis said after scoring 13 points recently in an NCCU win against Toccoa Falls. “They feel real good to my feet, and the season is a grind, so you’ve got to treat your wheels right.
“They may look old on the outside. On the inside, though, they beautifully fit.”
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton can roll with that sort of mentality, especially with what he’s anticipating when his Eagles go in Corbett Sports Center in Greensboro today to renew a rivalry with N.C. A&T (4 p.m., WNCU 90.7-FM).
The Aggie-Eagle matchup comes more than a month before the teams get into the thick of their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedules, but the game tends not to disappoint whenever its played.
This rivalry brings with it a lot of pomp, and Moton said he would try to get his players’ minds away from the proverbial fashion show associated with the game, not to mention the pep bands and all of the other extra-curricular aspects associated with the occasion.
“We’ve just got to play basketball,” Moton said.
Both NCCU (4-4) and A&T (3-5) are coming off wins.
A&T went across town to the Greensboro Coliseum to beat UNC Greensboro 90-79 on Wednesday. The Aggies got 24 points from junior forward Lamont Middleton (6-3, 205), a transfer from Wake Technical Community College who is leading A&T with 13.6 points per game.
On Tuesday, NCCU took care of Utah Valley 70-52. Willis led the way with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Utah Valley beat A&T earlier this month, as the Aggies shot 35.6 percent from the field in the 64-55 loss.
NCCU shot it 56.8 percent against Utah Valley, holding the Wolverines to 38.5 percent from the field.
Both Willis and Jeremy Ingram are leading NCCU in scoring, each averaging 13.1 points.
The Eagles are getting 12.8 points from Stanton Kidd and 10.1 from Jay Copeland, but what concerns Moton is that those two, though not freshmen, still are relatively new to NCCU basketball.
Kidd (6-7, 215), a junior, transferred from South Plains, a community college in Texas.
Copeland (6-7, 255), a redshirt sophomore, sat out the 2011-12 season after transferring from Ball State.
NCCU point guard Drimir Ferguson (5-9, 170) is another junior-college transfer who is getting significant minutes while adjusting to the way the Eagles play, contributing to the learning curve that Moton said could make his team vulnerable.
Moton said he scheduled tough games early in the season against teams such as Wichita State and Wagner to get NCCU ready for the MEAC in January, but today’s session with A&T offers the new Eagles a taste of what their league has to offer.
“The thing with the MEAC — it’s really personal,” Moton said. “Like A&T, just throw all the records out the window. It’s just so personal, and it’s so much emotion that rides on that game. The first team that calms down is normally the victor in that, and we’ve been fortunate to calm down first quite a few times.”
A&T leads the series 75-64, but NCCU is 3-1 against the Aggies since joining Division I, including a 2-0 record at Corbett Sports Center.
First-year A&T coach Cy Alexander has been lauded by MEAC coaches as a guy who can get the Aggies to win more consistently.
This is not Alexander’s first time in the league, having taken S.C. State to five MEAC tournament championships.
Alexander, whose career record is 348-315, also coached at Tennessee State, where he led the Tigers to the 2008 Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship game.
Willis said the Eagles wouldn’t get caught up in the hype that is supposed to come with playing A&T.
“We’re going to prepare for A&T as if we were preparing for Utah Valley and just try to go in there and do our principles and execute and come out with a win, hopefully,” Willis said.