Morgan State next challenge for NCCU

Jan. 26, 2014 @ 09:01 PM

With apologies to Cupid for stealing some of the shine he gets every February, but something like Valentine’s Day is going down tonight when Morgan State drops by N.C. Central’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium for a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference matchup that has first-place ramifications (7:30 p.m., NCCUEaglePride.com).

Valentine is the term NCCU coach LeVelle Moton uses when referring to the need to have a heart for defense, Eagles senior Alfonzo Houston said. Like when a player is struggling offensively, it takes heart to put aside pouting and just go out there on the floor and lockdown on defense, Moton said.

“Defense is our heart,” Houston said. “It’s like a stab in the heart when another team scores on us.”

On Saturday, NCCU made Coppin State shoot 33.3 percent from the field and beat the visitors 87-63.

A few days before that, N.C. A&T got off the bus at NCCU’s place, shot 22.7 percent from the field and mulled over an 84-44 loss on the ride back to Greensboro.

Nine teams have shown up in McDougald-McLendon this season. Every one of them lost. 

“We don’t lose at home,” NCCU guard Dante Holmes said.

But here comes Morgan State (6-11, 4-1 MEAC) with a real nice scorer in senior guard Justin Black (6-2, 220).

“He’s Jeremy Ingram-ish,” Moton said, referring to NCCU’s top point producer.

Ingram (6-3, 175) is the No. 2 scorer in the MEAC at 19.6 points per game.

Black averages 18.8 points per game, third-best in the league.

“Heck of a basketball player,” Moton said. “Will be first-team all-conference.”

And there’s Morgan State’s Ian Chiles, who’s blocked 49 shots this season. His 2.9 blocks per game has him second in that category in the MEAC. Chiles averages 15.1 points per game and isn’t bad on the boards, grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game.

But the main thing with Chiles is he’s just so tall.

“We don’t have anyone 7-foot-3, so I’ve got to go home and rack my brain on how we’re going to defend that,” Moton said.

Chiles is listed at 7-2 on Morgan State’s roster, which also includes several 6-foot-9 guys.

“They’re huge,” Moton said. “They’re grown men out there. It’s going to be a physical game.”

Savannah State has a half-game lead on NCCU (13-5, 4-1 MEAC) for first place in the league. Morgan State remains in that conversation, too, after A&T used overtime on Saturday to deal the Bears their first MEAC loss of the season.

“We’re competing for first place right now,” Houston said. “We don’t lose at home, like Dante said. And we’re coming in with a mindset that we’ve got to guard. That’s it. We’ve got to have a valentine on defense, and that’s what it is.”

Holmes said the pressure is on NCCU to keep its home winning streak intact.

Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell said Morgan State will be dealing with an NCCU squad that is athletic and, quite frankly, simply loves to play the game.

“When you play hard, that makes up for a lot of mistakes that you might make,” Mitchell said.

That sort of hard, tough brand of basketball is epitomized in Houston’s game. When that guy goes to the hole, he really attacks it. 

“I’m a big-bodied guard. I just try to use by body to finish at the rim,” said Houston (6-3, 190). “Jump shots don’t help us if I shoot 'em. I leave that up to Jeremy Ingram and Dante Holmes and Poobie Chapman. I don’t shoot 3s. I get to that rim and throw my body around a little bit, get physical.”

NOTES: Holmes (6-3, 190) said Morgan State, in Baltimore, was one of the schools he considered while making up his mind about transferring. He’s from Baltimore and figured Morgan State would allow him to be close to his family. But Holmes said he ultimately decided that NCCU would give him the freshest start.