Humbled NCCU won't look past Howard in MEAC opener

Mar. 11, 2014 @ 10:09 PM

It’s hump day for N.C. Central.

That doesn’t have anything to do with today being Wednesday.

At the Norfolk Scope Arena a year ago, the Eagles showed up for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament with their chests stuck out, because they’d lost only one league game all season, NCCU senior Emanuel Chapman said.

N.C. A&T, NCCU’s main rival, was waiting on the Eagles. The Aggies handled business in the opening round of the tournament and then handled NCCU, which had beaten A&T twice during the regular season.

That’s the hump NCCU has to overcome this time in the tournament, and the No. 9 Aggies almost had another opportunity to spoil the Eagles’ postseason had it not been for No. 8 Howard pulling out a clutch Round 1 win against A&T on Tuesday.

So Howard today gets a crack at NCCU, the top seed in the tournament (6 p.m., 99.9 HD-3 The Ticket).

NCCU has already beaten Howard once this season, but the Eagles don’t have their chests stuck out this time, Chapman said.

“We felt like we should have been No. 1,” Chapman said about last March.

Norfolk State was the top seed in the 2012-13 MEAC Tournament. The Spartans were undefeated in the MEAC but never played NCCU.

“We went into the tournament thinking we’re about to just kill everybody,” Chapman said. “That was a terrible mindset. We ended up getting killed.”

“That happening has made us the team we are today,” NCCU senior Jeremy Ingram said.

In recent weeks, Chapman would play coy when asked about the Eagles laying that egg in the tournament against A&T.

“Last season? What?” Chapman quipped, feigning amnesia. “I don’t really know about last season. I can’t really answer that one.”

But Chapman couldn’t deny the pain caused when it all ended quick, fast and in a hurry a year ago.

“We used it as fuel to the offseason, I can’t lie about that,” Chapman said. “We’re a totally different team.”

As good as NCCU (25-5) has been this season, running through the MEAC with a 15-1 record for the second year in a row, the Eagles’ approach this time around is that anybody can beat them, even 8-24 Howard, Chapman said.

That’s the same sermon NCCU coach LeVelle Moton has been preaching.

“We’re not a dominant basketball team,” Moton said. “We can beat anyone in the conference, and anyone in the conference can beat us, as well.”

Moton, who played for NCCU from 1992-96, earned a master’s degree from his alma mater this past December. His course of study was special education, but he spoke to his players about last year’s tournament loss as if he’s pursuing a doctorate in counseling.

“I had my heart broken in ninth grade, and that bothers me to this day, and I have done everything as a grown man to not experience that pain ever again in my life,” Moton said. “So I told them, ‘You’re pretty much in the same boat. Let’s do everything that we possibly can to never experience the pain of that locker room in our lives.’”