Eagles get another chance vs. Savannah State
Second place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is right there for N.C. Central, and the Eagles plan to give it a good lean at the finish line.
NCCU will look to handle its business today at 4 p.m. against third-place Savannah State, then deal with S.C. State on Monday before putting a bow on the regular season at Hampton on March 7.
Norfolk State (18-10, 13-0 MEAC) sits atop the standings with an unscathed league record. The Spartans won the conference tournament a year ago.
Savannah State (17-11, 10-3), the reigning regular-season champion, is the only team in the MEAC to have beaten NCCU this go around.
An NCCU victory will give the Eagles (19-8, 12-1) their first 20-win season since becoming a Division I program a year ago. The elevated status at long last affords NCCU the opportunity to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, something the Eagles most likely only will get if they win the MEAC tournament.
Ray Willis transferred to NCCU from Oklahoma, joining the Eagles during their journey to big-time college basketball. He will be honored today as part of NCCU’s Senior Day celebration.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Willis said. “It’s just amazing how time flies, but I’m just fortunate with the turnout of the season that we’re having and the guys that I’m able to play with my last year. It’s been enjoyable.”
Ebuka Anyaorah transferred to NCCU as a junior after spending some time playing at Georgia. He also will be honored today, although NCCU is exploring the possibility of applying for a medical redshirt for him since he has been sidelined since November recovering from a broken foot.
Willis, averaging 12.4 points per game, is shooting 86.1 percent from the free throw line, the best percentage in the MEAC. His 81.7 career percentage from the the line is the best in school history among any player with 220 attempts.
At Oklahoma, Willis played under current Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel, and he played with Blake Griffin, now an NBA All-Star forward with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Willis (6-6, 164) said the opportunity to learn from NCCU coach LeVelle Moton influenced his decision.
“I just wanted to grow,” Willis said, referring to his time at Oklahoma. “I didn’t like the direction that I was going. Nobody’s to blame but me. At the end of the day, when you’re not playing, you can’t blame anybody else. You’ve got to look within yourself and what you can be doing more of, and that’s just what I did.
“I love the decision I made and the person I turned out to be.”
Willis, who aspires to play pro basketball, said Moton has prepared him for life beyond hoops.
“I’ve been able to not just grow as a player but, most importantly, as a person, and I think that’s shown through the way I’ve played,” Willis said. “When I leave, I hope that the younger dudes under me (will say) that I did it the right way, from coming in getting extra work to handling business in the classroom and being respectful.”