Newcomers, veterans keep NCCU rolling
It was N.C. A&T’s experience against the team-chemistry experiment that N.C. Central had going on in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium on Saturday.
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton got the explosion he was looking for when his fluid lineup of newcomers and program veterans converged for a 51-47 win over their archrival from Greensboro.
Down 12 midway through the first half, NCCU took its first lead of the game when junior Jeremy Ingram knocked down a second-half 3-pointer with 13:11 left in the contest, and the Eagles kept the upper hand.
“These guys fight. They fight,” Moton said. “The strength of this team is the team. They fight. They love each other. They care for one another. It’s genuine. It takes precedent over here on the floor, and that’s something you really can’t measure.”
NCCU is playing without sophomore forward Karamo Jawara, sidelined with a knee injury. Moton calls him the point guard for NCCU’s frontline because of the way he’d come off the bench and keep fellow forwards Stanton Kidd and Jay Copeland Jr. in the right spots on the floor.
Copeland, a starter, is a redshirt sophomore who played at Ball State when he was a freshman. An NCAA transfer rule kept Copeland from playing for NCCU last season, so this go around is his first time suiting up for the Eagles.
Kidd, a junior, transferred from South Plains, a community college in Texas. This is his first season at NCCU, where he is the team’s No. 2 scorer, averaging 14.2 points per game as a starter.
It took Kidd a while to figure out how to get buckets in Moton’s system, and it was Jawara who got him up to speed, his own playing time notwithstanding.
That’s the sort of team chemistry that Moton would say has NCCU at 12-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, from which just one team will earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament by winning the MEAC Tournament.
Jawara got hurt on Feb. 4 against Maryland-Eastern Shore. NCCU won that game and has since gone 4-1 without him.
But there are no two ways about it, the Eagles need Jawara, Moton said. NCCU’s inability to execute often times has been due to the absence of Jawara, Moton said.
“He’s critical for us. What he does does not show up in the stat sheet,” Moton said. “I think that’s the special-ness of this team, the way it was built. It’s truly a team.
“Even if we’re missing Rashawn King, we feel that void.”
King has played three minutes and scored two points the entire season. But the freshman brings to the squad a certain grit as he continues chemotherapy while battling leukemia, something that also does not show up on any stat sheets.
“His energy on the bench triggers everyone,” Moton said about King. “It helps everyone just to see his face. All the energy is predicated off the next man sitting beside them, and these kids have really bought into that. I know it’s old-fashioned and it’s cliché and it’s not sexy to write about, but that’s the truth in regard to our team.”
During the A&T game, Moton kept cutting his eyes over to the base line where Larry Rose was sitting.
Rose supervises the officials in the MEAC, and Moton’s looks in his direction suggested that some notes needed to be taken about the refs working the game.
“I just thought on one critical call, I just thought Jeremy (Ingram) got fouled,” Moton said. “But at the end of the day, Jeremy has got to be stronger with the basketball, and we prepare for those situations. And we prepare to control those situations and not have to depend on a whistle.”
Moton said it’s all good between him and Rose.
“Larry, he’s great man. We’ve got a great relationship,” Moton said. “I always joke with him. He always makes sure I stay in the box.”