Moton stresses defense to MEAC-leading N.C. Central
An NBA scout at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium last month when N.C. Central beat N.C. A&T by 40 points said the blowout kept him from adequately assessing NCCU senior shooting guard Jeremy Ingram.
On Monday, NCCU handled Florida A&M by 43.
FAMU coach Clemon Johnson said he saw plenty not only from Ingram but also from NCCU’s fine point guard and some NCCU big men who make up for their lack of scoring by doing other things well.
“They’re focused. They’re like, ‘Hey, we’re on a mission,’” Johnson said about NCCU. “To be honest with you, at the beginning of the season when people asked me who the best team in the conference is, I told them this team was. Everybody was talking about Norfolk (State). No, Norfolk can’t touch these guys. These guys are on a mission.”
It’s a straightforward to-do list for NCCU: Finish first in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Win the MEAC Tournament, which would send NCCU to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The Eagles are perched atop the MEAC with one league loss.
But this is the regular season, and NCCU a year ago stormed through the conference. NCCU’s 15-1 finish in the MEAC earned the squad a first-round bye in the conference tournament, although it wasn’t beneficial.
NCCU was one and done in the MEAC Tournament, knocked out by N.C. A&T, which won it and earned the league’s lone berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not about being compared to last year’s team,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. “Last year’s team is last year’s team, and this year’s team is this year’s team. What we have to learn is the guys from last year have to learn from the mistakes that were made last year, and that was not being ready to play come tournament time as far as taking plays off and so forth and so on.”
Moton saw some of that over the weekend when NCCU beat Bethune-Cookman. Despite the win, the Eagles didn’t respect the game with their lack of passion on the court, and Moton said he let Ingram and point guard Emanuel Chapman know that they had a lot to do with that as senior leaders.
“They were playing just to play instead of playing to be great,” Moton said.
Offensively, NCCU can get the shots it wants, Moton said. The Eagles are making good on those looks, too, hitting nearly 47 percent of their shots from the field.
NCCU (73.2 points per game) is second in the MEAC in scoring behind Norfolk State (74.2 ppg). Putting up numbers like that is sexy, Moton said.
But one of the things Moton pointed out to his players when they gathered to watch the Super Bowl was what the Seattle Seahawks were doing when the Denver Broncos had the ball.
Nasty, stingy defense is what wins championships, because Ingram’s team-leading 18.6 points per game may dry up again, Moton explained.
Ingram has been shooting the ball better over the last several games after going through a slump. His teammates picked of the scoring slack, and NCCU kept winning.
But if shots stop falling for multiple Eagles, then NCCU might have to win gritty games when the final score is in the 30s — blue-collar basketball, Moton said.
“We have to understand we’re a blue-collar team, not a white-collar team, and when you’re winning basketball games and people are stroking you, you can think that you’re a white-collar team. But we can’t forget our identity,” Moton said.
Teams are shooting 37.8 percent against NCCU, which is giving up 59.7 points per game. The Eagles are playing the best defense in the league.
“We understand that when we play good defense, it’s way more fun to play,” NCCU forward Karamo Jawara said. “When we let people score on us, it’s not that fun to be out there.”
FAMU’s coach sure made it sound like his Rattlers weren’t particularly enjoying the moment the other night against NCCU (18-5, 9-1 MEAC).
“I saw some things (Monday) night that a polished team does,” Johnson said, referring to NCCU. “One guy drove to the basket, we cut him off. Next thing you know, here comes another guy diving right behind him. (The passer) hit him. He went in for a layup. Like I said, if he didn’t lay it up, here comes another guy on the other side, cutting.”
Plays like that could produce a different outcome for NCCU next month in the MEAC Tournament.
“We’re not even concerned about the tournament,” Moton said.
It’s still the regular season.