NCCU claims historic MEAC title, lands 1st NCAA Tournament berth
N.C. Central is in the NCAA Tournament.
“Every single kid that touches a basketball desires to be in the field of 65,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. “When that song ‘One Shining Moment’ comes on, it does something to everyone. It’s like, I should have played it at my wedding. That should have been the song my wife and I danced off of, because it just sends chills through your body. These guys get an opportunity to do that now.”
Top-seeded NCCU won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament with a 71-62 victory over No. 3 Morgan State in Norfolk Scope Arena on Saturday.
It was NCCU’s 20th win in a row, the team’s 28th win of the season, tying the Eagles’ 1988-89 and 1950-51 teams.
NCCU hadn’t won a conference championship tournament of any kind since 1950 when basketball innovator John McLendon was coaching the team in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
In fact, the conference-tournament championship the Eagles just won is the first for any NCCU team since the school reclassified its sports to the Division I level in 2011.
But the main thing is NCCU gets to dance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
“We’re just happy to be in. And I hate to use that phrase, but we’re just happy to be in,” Moton said. “I don’t care what seed we are. We get a chance for one shining moment, and I know these guys are elated, as well.”
They’ll have a blast, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said.
Morgan State won the MEAC Tournament in 2009 and 2010, earning automatic berths into the NCAA Tournament.
“Once you drink out of that cup, you want to keep drinking from it,” Bozeman said.
The Eagles would tell you their body of work from a 28-5 season made their case for a place in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
But NCCU made the decision automatic by locking up the MEAC’s lone bid to the Big Dance.
MEAC Tournament most valuable player and conference player of the year Jeremy Ingram led all scorers with 29 points. His 18 in the first half kept NCCU in the game.
During its first two games in the tournament, NCCU was able to pull away from teams in the first half and make the final 20 minutes rather perfunctory.
But the Eagles didn’t gain separation from Morgan State until roughly the last five minutes.
The refs were letting both teams play, and the players were game. There was a lot of pushing, plenty of hustle points up for grabs.
“It was going to boil down to toughness and fifty-fifty balls, and in the first half they got every single one,” Moton said. “We’re smiling up here now. But if you were in that locker room, I went straight at them, because we had a chance to put them on their heels a little bit, and I didn’t feel like these guys were playing up to the caliber that they’re capable of playing.”
Ingram was punching the Bears from behind the arc. He made all three of his first-half 3-point tries.
But Morgan State kept coming, getting a running jumper from Anthony Hubbard at the halftime buzzer that tied it 31-31.
Boding well for the Bears was that 7-2 center Ian Chiles had 10 points and, more importantly, just one foul at the halfway point. He was playing meaner and more physical than normal, altering shots with his length, and not being in foul trouble meant he didn’t have to abandon an aggressive style that was working.
And Morgan State was even without a point from senior guard Justin Black, who scored 29 and 30 points, respectively, in the Bears’ first two tournament games.
“If you would have told me that before, I wouldn’t have believed we’d still be in the game,” Bozeman said.
Black ended up fouling out with nine points.
“I thought we did a great job on Justin Black. I thought we made him work,” Moton said.
That’s what Bozeman wanted to do with Ingram — make him work on defense against Black.
But Moton had big-bodied guard Alfonzo Houston following Black wherever he went on the court.
NCCU tried to counter Chiles (26 points) by pushing him off the low block, but the senior wasn't going out like that.
The Eagles made 25 of 30 free throws in the second half. That was big.
“We just made plays down the stretch,” Moton said.
Former NCCU coach Greg Jackson called Moton recently and told him that this edition of the Eagles is the best MEAC team he’s ever seen.
Jackson coached in the MEAC this season before getting fired from Delaware State.
At the very least, the 2013-14 Eagles are the best thing going in the league right now, proving it with a regular-season championship and a tournament championship.
And now the Eagles get to dance.
Look for them in the Final Four, Moton said.
“Now, we know it’s a longshot, OK? But at least we’re in the party, so we get an opportunity to dance, and we get to go on the dance floor just like everyone else,” Moton said. “And once you get out there, there’s no telling what will happen. History has proven that. These guys are fearless. I don’t care who we play.”
|NC CENTRAL 71, MORGAN ST. 62|
Percentages: FG .379, FT .684.
3-Point Goals: 5-21, .238 (Bozeman 2-11, Hubbard 1-2, Simpson 1-2, Black 1-5, Pretlow 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Heath 2).
Turnovers: 11 (Duncan 2, Chiles 2, Black 2, Heath, Bozeman, Pretlow, Hubbard).
Steals: 5 (Black, Chiles, Pretlow, Bozeman, Duncan).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .442, FT .788.
3-Point Goals: 7-13, .538 (Ingram 4-6, Groves 2-5, Jawara 1-1, Chapman 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 15 (Chapman 3, Copeland 2, Parks 2, Jawara 2, Houston 2, Groves 2, Ingram).
Steals: 4 (Chapman 3, Copeland).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Jackie Sanders, Everett Summers, .