Eagles hit road to face Hornets
Battle-tested N.C. Central can remain undefeated in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a win at Delaware State today (4 p.m., nccueaglepride.com).
The Eagles (13-7, 6-0 MEAC) appear to have used the lumps endured during non-conference losses to more established Division I schools such as Marquette to harden themselves for the conference schedule.
NCCU beat a taller Morgan State team 69-61 in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium on Monday. Eagles forward Jay Copeland said Morgan State’s size reminded him of Marquette, which beat NCCU 75-66 in late December.
The Eagles haven’t lost since, soaring to Delaware State’s Memorial Hall on a seven-game winning streak.
“It gets real,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. “You’ve got to protect home while you can and then go on the road and try to do some things then.
“We’ve got a tough one. We’re going against Delaware State. I think they were predicted to win the MEAC. They’ve got the most talent in the league, probably the best coach in the league and someone that I learned from.”
Delaware State coach Greg Jackson was Moton’s coach at NCCU in the mid-1990s. Moton said he still regards Jackson as a father figure.
Savannah State was the preseason pick to win the MEAC regular-season title. Delaware State (9-10, 4-1) was picked to finish second, receiving one first-place vote among the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
Savannah State won the MEAC title a year ago and returned all five starters this season this season. The Tigers currently are in third place, ahead of Delaware State but behind second-place NCCU.
The Eagles, picked to finish seventh out of the 13 teams in the MEAC, trail only Norfolk State in the standings. Norfolk State, the lone team besides NCCU that is undefeated in the league, won the 2012 MEAC Tournament.
NCCU is catching a Delaware State team that has won three straight games. The Hornets feature preseason All-MEAC first-team member Tahj Tate, who is averaging a team-best 14.3 points, which is sixth-best in the league.
Delaware State leads the league with 5.9 blocked shots per game. Kendall Gray, the Hornets’ 6-10 center, has swatted 45 shots, leading the MEAC with three blocks per game.
Hardened from the journey, the Eagles could use a suit of armor to help them get out of Delaware State’s gym without their first conference setback, to hear Moton tell it.
“You’re going into a hostile, hostile environment,” Moton said. “Everyone in Delaware is going to fit in one little gym and pull against you.”