N.C. Central is turning into the team that no other MEAC squads want to see in March, especially at the Norfolk Scope.
For the second year in a row, the Eagles knocked off the No. 1 seed, this time defeating Norfolk State, 50-47, for the MEAC championship.
Raasean Davis, voted the tournament’s most outstanding player, scored eight points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Zacarry Douglas recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the third straight title for NCCU, securing its third consecutive and fourth overall trip to the Big Dance. It was the second championship win over the Spartans in the last three seasons. NCCU defeated NSU in the 2017 title game. NCCU is the first MEAC team to win three straight tournament titles since North Carolina A&T won seven in a row from 1982-1988.
This time around the Eagles (18-15) used a strong second half to shutdown the Spartans, outscoring NSU 28-15.
Norfolk State (21-13) only hit four field goals in the second half. The 15 points by the Spartans were a season-low for an NCCU opponent. The Eagles’ defense was clutch, considering NCCU went the final four minutes without scoring a basket. Norfolk State guard Mastadi Pitt missed a three-point shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game. The shot wasn’t even close and for the third straight season confetti rained down on the Eagles on the floor at the Norfolk Scope.
“Typical championship game,” NCCU head coach LeVelle Moton said. “We knew we were going to be in for a dog fight. We knew there were going to be some high highs and low lows.”
The Eagles started the game by missing two layups on their first possession and didn’t score until Larry McKnight Jr. scored a layup at the 17:53 mark.
“I was extremely disappointed in our execution in the first half,” Moton said. “I can’t say publicly what I said to them in the locker room, but we just had to do a better job of executing. That’s what we do, we execute.”
NCCU started the second half on an 12-0 run to tie the game at 34 after a three from Douglas. It was just the second three of the game for NCCU. The first came moments earlier when Jordan Perkins, who had just two points at halftime, knocked down the first three of the night for the Eagles, cutting the lead to nine.
Moton credited Perkins with getting things started for NCCU after the break. The sophomore guard scored five quick points in the first few minutes of the second half, and finished with nine for the game.
“They were doubling Raasean and we just needed to make some shots,” Moton said. “I thought once we got in the open floor and got some points in transition the game changed a little bit.”
The game still went down to the wire, mainly because NCCU went cold from the floor. The Eagles, who shot 36 percent from the field for the game, hit their final field goal, a layup from Blount, with 4:04 remaining on the clock. NCCU ended the game by missing six straight shots and the Spartans, who trailed by eight after Blount’s layup, went 3-for-4 from the line to make it a three-point game with 2:23 remaining. Norfolk State, like NCCU, couldn’t buy a bucket the final 2:23, missing four shots from the field.
Even without scoring a bucket, the Eagles’ defense did its job, shutting down NSU.
“Defense wins games anyway,” Davis said. “As long as we were locked in on the defensive end and limited them to one shot, that was our key thing, making sure they didn’t get multiple chances at the rim. I feel like we did a pretty good job.”
Davis now has two MEAC rings, having won it all with the Eagles last season.
“I’m just thankful that we all came and went to war together,” Davis said. “Most of all I’m just thankful for another opportunity to do this at a Division I level. I’m thankful we were able to get it done for a third year in a row.”
Respect is something the rest of the conference has to have for the Eagles, who have now won four MEAC tournament titles in eight years of being a full MEAC member.
It never gets old to the 44 year-old coach.
“This is what we do it for,” Moton said. “You try to push and squeeze all the juice out of the orange and get them to believe in themselves. I’m thankful that they believed in themselves this week.”