EAGLES TAKE FLIGHT
N.C. Central’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium holds 3,116 people.
It wasn’t at capacity Monday night when 2,732 watched the Eagles clinch the regular-season championship in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but a whole bunch of folks were watching on ESPNU when a good number of those fans rushed the court after NCCU beat Savannah State 64-57 in overtime.
What a difference four years makes.
NCCU point guard Emanuel Chapman was a freshman during the 2010-11 season.
Nobody was rushing the court back then — not that anyone would have noticed.
“My first game playing in this gym had about nine or 10 people in there — counting my mom,” Chapman said.
The Eagles went 15-15 during that campaign, a season away from rejoining the MEAC.
NCCU was a founding member of the MEAC in the early 1970s before leaving in 1979 to join the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association when the MEAC moved to Division I.
The Eagles started playing Division I basketball during the 2007-08 season, and everybody wanted to schedule them. NCCU went 4-26 that season. It wasn’t pretty.
NCCU Hall of Fame guard LeVelle Moton was an assistant coach for the Eagles during those early Division I days.
In 2009, NCCU athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree gave Moton the keys to the gym, making him the head basketball coach at his alma mater.
Things started changing, culminating earlier this week with NCCU’s first conference title as a Division I program.
Success sure didn’t happen overnight.
“We weren’t fortunate enough to have any one-and-done players come through here, so it’s been a process,” Chapman said. “It’s been a slow grind. Fortunately, it’s turned out to be a regular-season championship.”
Moton has coached a fair number of players who transferred into the program from other schools. Chapman and NCCU senior shooting guard Jeremy Ingram are the first guys who Moton has coached for four seasons.
Chapman and Ingram were around when NCCU was not affiliated with a league.
There were several flocks of Eagles who couldn’t play for conference titles, yet they still came to NCCU and laid a foundation, Moton said.
“Those guys were the trailblazers and pioneers of it,” Moton said. “So, to say the least, it’s just an ultimate responsibility of this team to go out there and compete extremely hard.”
NCCU (24-5, 14-1 MEAC) wraps up its regular season at Norfolk State (17-12, 11-4 MEAC) on Thursday (8 p.m., 99.9 HD3 The Ticket).
As the regular-season champs, NCCU, already guaranteed at least a spot in the National Invitation Tournament, will be the No. 1 seed in the MEAC Tournament next week at Norfolk (Va.) Scope Arena.
The Eagles are one of the heavy favorites to win the MEAC Tournament, which comes with an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Both accomplishments would be firsts for the program.
Once upon a time, those stories were fairy tales for NCCU.
“It’s surreal, man,” Chapman said the other night before helping his team cut down the nets after winning the league championship.
Moton said he knew NCCU basketball was turning the corner after his team played Oklahoma extremely close on Nov. 15, 2010. The Eagles led for more than 28 straight minutes, including all of the second half until the Sooners hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 15 seconds left in regulation.
Oklahoma beat NCCU 71-63 in overtime.
When Moton took over as head coach, higher-profile teams like Oklahoma were sticking it to NCCU by nearly 40 points. Beatings like that had residual effects, stinging for a while and impacting the psyches of the Eagles, Moton said. He said he knew that had to change.
The game against Oklahoma demonstrated that NCCU could compete with the big boys, limited resources notwithstanding, Moton said.
This season, NCCU beat N.C. State 82-72 in overtime at PNC Arena. It was NCCU’s first win against an Atlantic Coast Conference team.
Here’s the thing: Moton said Chapman told him NCCU would win that game.
“That’s just the attitude that you’ve got to have,” Moton said. “You’ve got to feel like you belong when you walk out there on that floor.”
|NC CENTRAL 64, SAVANNAH ST. 57, OT|
Percentages: FG .400, FT .588.
3-Point Goals: 7-15, .467 (Williams 4-4, Richards 2-2, Hill 1-4, Hall 0-1, Montgomery 0-2, Fenner 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 6 (Smith 6).
Turnovers: 20 (Richards 5, Smith 4, White 4, Hall 3, Champaigne, Hill, Montgomery).
Steals: 4 (Richards, Hill, Hall, Smith).
Technical Fouls: Montgomery.
Percentages: FG .382, FT .679.
3-Point Goals: 3-18, .167 (Chapman 2-5, Ingram 1-9, Groves 0-2, Jawara 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 6.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Ingram 3, Parks 3, Jawara).
Turnovers: 9 (Ingram 3, Chapman 2, Jawara 2, Parks, Copeland).
Steals: 9 (Jawara 3, Chapman 2, Parks, Copeland, Groves, Ingram).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Dwayne Gladden, Quez Crawford, Tony Crisp.