NCCU rips Norfolk State; Eagles to play for MEAC title Saturday
N.C. Central is 40 minutes away from going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
But No. 3 Morgan State will have something to say about top-seeded NCCU claiming the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s lone ticket to the Big Dance today during the championship game of the conference tournament at Norfolk Scope Arena (6 p.m., ESPNU).
NCCU made it to the title game by beating No. 4 Norfolk State 68-45 on Friday.
Four Eagles scored in double figures, but NCCU’s defense was the key.
“They were calling out all the plays as we were coming down. They knew our sets,” Norfolk State’s Marese Phelps said.
That’s the same thing one of Howard’s players said after NCCU beat up the Bison in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
“Whether we know it or not, we want to call it out and make it seem like we know it,” NCCU senior Jeremy Ingram said.
“Don’t tell everybody that,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton whispered.
The Spartans (19-14) were noticeably taller than the Eagles (27-5). NCCU countered that length with girth, using big-bodied guard Alfonzo Houston and thick forward Jay Copeland to move the Spartans off their spots.
“We actually shot 41 percent from the field, but we only got 39 attempts. They did a good job of not letting us get good looks at the rim,” Norfolk State coach Robert Jones said. “They were just being physical with us.”
“The refs let us play a little bit,” Moton said.
Norfolk State was shooting 47.4 percent from the field in the first half. That’s not how Moton likes his Eagles to do business. He wants the opposition making less than 40 percent of its shots.
That’s where NCCU was on offense, shooting 38.5 percent from the field.
But the Eagles clung to a 32-24 halftime lead, getting nice production off the bench from redshirt senior Ebuka Anyaorah, who laid in the final two points of the first 20 minutes.
NCCU’s Karamo Jawara started the final 20 minutes with a 3-pointer.
Jawara (6-8, 220) was brilliant in the high post. He had a game-high seven assists.
“His IQ, man,” Ingram said. “He just sees stuff before it happens, and the ball is in your hand before you know it. As a big, he’s a point forward.”
Norfolk State’s Anell Alexis missed a layup. Jawara snagged the rebound and got the ball to point guard Emanuel Chapman for a transition layup.
NCCU was starting to pull away.
Jones burned a timeout to settle the Spartans.
“When it was nip and tuck in the first half, everything was OK,” Jones said. “As soon as they kind of got rolling, it was really like a snowball effect, and that’s something that we were trying to limit, their runs.”
The Spartans went nearly five minutes without a basket before Pedarvis Williams’ 3 put the first points of the second half on the scoreboard for Norfolk State.
That made the score 43-27, NCCU. A lot of time was on the clock, 15:03, but a comeback was highly questionable with the Eagles playing some inspired defense that had the Spartans in shackles.
When the Spartans got open looks, they generally knocked them down, like that corner 3 by Phelps that made it a 52-36 game.
Those opportunities were so rare, though, and sometimes mitigated. NCCU’s Reggie Groves countered that 3 by Phelps with his rendition, near the corner.
Earlier in the season, NCCU was playing good basketball but not defending like should have been, Moton said. At one point, Ingram, the MEAC's player of the year, was the No. 3 scorer in the nation, but his defense was lukewarm, Moton said.
“He was averaging 29 points, but he was giving up 29 points, too,” Moton said. “It’s just overall buy-in. Our team defense is just that — it’s team oriented, and our guys have really bought into it.”
So anytime a Spartan would beat his man to a spot, an Eagle would swoop in with another layer of defense.
That’s how NCCU solved Norfolk State’s size.
“Regardless (of whether) they’re way taller than us, way bigger than us, way faster than us, whatever the case may be, we play five people,” Chapman said. “If they’re going to have to beat us, they’re going to have to beat all five of us all the time, and I think that’s tough. That’s tough for any team.
“We don’t play one-on-one defense.”
The Eagles never fly solo, Jones said.
“Their chemistry goes further than their talent,” Jones said. “Do I think they’re the most talented team in the league? Maybe not. But (they have) the best teamwork, which makes them the best team. I don’t really know exactly what they do over there to get that bond the way it is, but you can tell those guys like playing with each other, and they’ll do anything. They’re really brothers on the court.”
It’s about believing in the brand. That brand wasn’t so great several years ago when NCCU was transitioning from Division II basketball in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association to Division I. Nostalgic fans were having CIAA withdrawal symptoms, Moton said.
Those years required some creativity to attract folks to NCCU’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium, Moton said.
“We weren’t wrestling alligators at the half or nothing like that,” Moton said.
But it ultimately would come down to putting a good product on the floor, and the result was a lot of NCCU maroon and gray in the Scope, Moton said.
“It’s a lot more fans in there (Friday) than it was in our gym,” Moton said.
|NC CENTRAL 68, NORFOLK ST. 45|
Percentages: FG .410, FT .643.
3-Point Goals: 4-8, .500 (Williams 2-3, Phelps 1-1, Hawkins 1-3, Alexis 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Goode 6, Hawkins).
Turnovers: 14 (Hawkins 3, Gaston 3, Williams 2, Goode 2, Lila-St. Rose, Fuentes, Phelps, Alexis).
Steals: 4 (Phelps 2, Hawkins, Maye).
Technical Fouls: Fuentes.
Percentages: FG .404, FT .833.
3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Ingram 2-2, Parks 1-1, Jawara 1-2, Chapman 1-4, Groves 1-5, Houston 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 1 (Jawara).
Turnovers: 7 (Houston 4, Jawara 2, Chapman).
Steals: 5 (Ingram 2, Parks, Chapman, Copeland).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_William Covington, Haywood Bostic, Harold Harris.