Eagles put on a show for NC Central’s 1989 National Championship team

North Carolina Central center Raasean Davis scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Eagles 78-53 win over Maryland Eastern Shore.
North Carolina Central center Raasean Davis scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Eagles 78-53 win over Maryland Eastern Shore. NCCU Athletics

LeVelle Moton is big on history, especially when it comes to North Carolina Central basketball history.

The hallways outside the gym at McDougald-McLendon Arena are lined with images of the Eagles’ history. Murals of former players, championship teams and legendary coaches are hard to miss as you walk from Moton’s office to the gym floor.

Moton likes to talk about the standard at NCCU and how “it never changes” despite the high turnover in the roster from year-to-year. The head coach, a graduate of NCCU, is a walking historian and constantly reminds his players that they have to play for the name on front of the jersey.

Part of the Eagles’ basketball history -- outside of Moton’s three trips to the NCAA tournament -- is a national championship. In 1989 NCCU won the Division II national title, and are able to boast that they are the first team to bring a national title to the city of Durham.

On Saturday, during the Eagles’ 78-53 win over Maryland Eastern Shore, the 1989 team was honored at halftime, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their win over Southeast Missouri State in Springfield, MA. NCCU’s 27-point win remains the highest margin of victory in a Division II title game.

Seven members of that team, along with head coach Mike Bernard, were in attendance to watch the current Eagles cruise to the win over the Hawks.

Senior center Raasean Davis posted his 10th double-double of the season (21 points, 11 rebounds), and NCCU connected on 10 of 19 three-point attempts, the fifth time this year they have hit 10 or more 3s in a game. But this game wasn’t as much about the present, as the past.

“Those guys mean a lot to me,” Moton said about members of the 1989 title team. “Those guys took that baton and established the standard and kept the bar high for the following teams to continue what they established.”

Coach Mike Bernard is surrounded by a happy group of N.C. Central national champions, who will reunite for a 30th anniversary celebration Saturday. Courtesy of NCCU

Moton arrived on campus as a player three years after the national championship. He still remembers members of the 1989 team coming back, playing pickup games with his team during his playing days.

“The love and passion they have for North Carolina Central is infectious,” Moton said. “I just want our guys to respect that and come out and give them a good show.”

The Eagles did that by shooting 63 percent from the field in the first half Saturday -- the highest they’ve shot in a half all year -- and were up by 14 by the time the 1989 team was honored. Coming off consecutive road losses, Moton said his team just needed to sleep in their own beds to get back on track.

The Eagles started the game by connecting on eight of their first 10 shots and had 13 assists on 17 baskets by halftime. After the title team was honored, NCCU gave the champs plenty to cheer for in the second half, taking a 25-point lead with more than 10 minutes remaining.

Moton said his system is the same as Bernard’s, just “on steroids a little bit.” Moton has added wrinkles and the pace is a little faster, but it all comes from Bernard, who also coached at Norfolk State, Fayetteville State and Shaw before retiring.

Bernard spoke to the current team after the win, encouraging them to keep “doing what you do.”

The Eagles, the defending MEAC tournament champs, were predicted to finished second in the league, but currently sit in fifth place. Bernard’s team can relate. Late in the 1989 season, NCCU lost twice to Virginia Union, but knocked off the Panthers, 60-55, in the Southeast Regional in Norfolk.

The Eagles are no strangers to success in Norfolk. They’ve won three MEAC tournament championships there, including the last two, and have the pieces in place to win another if they get hot for four straight games like they did in 2018.

“Adversity introduces a man to himself,” Moton said. “We’ve figured out a lot about ourselves, but we still have some work to do. We’re not perfect, we’re injured, but we make no excuses. We have to fight through it and find a way.”

Moton didn’t make a big deal this week about the champions being in town, not to his team anyway. He said he could feel the energy in the building. He didn’t feel any extra pressure to put on a good show for them. He did, however, catch himself being a fan of the group he says he always looked up too.

“Before I walked in the locker room (at halftime) I was looking up at the ‘One Shining Moment’ video,” Moton admitted. “I was late going into the locker room because I wanted to relive those moments. Those guys really meant a lot and they established the standard here and they will never be forgotten.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.