NORFOLK, Va.–North Carolina Central parlayed a 12-0 run to start the second half and some suffocating defense into a 50-47 win over Norfolk State in the championship game of the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Basketball Tournament at the Scope Arena on Saturday.
The Eagles (18-15), the No. 3 seed, received the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will head to Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. to face North Dakota State in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four.
The winner of that game will take on No. 1 overall seed Duke on Friday in Columbia, S.C.
The game was a physical affair where every possession was a struggle for both teams. Despite winning the shooting percentage battle, 34 percent to 18 percent, the Spartans (21-13) managed a 32-22 lead at the half, courtesy of a late 6-0 run.
But things changed to start the second half. NCCU put together a 12-0 run in the first four minutes to take a 34-32 lead. The run was keyed by Jordan Perkins (five points), Zacarry Douglas (four points) and Larry McKnight (three points).
“It is no question that was the key to the game,” NCCU head coach LeVelle Moton, the tournament’s Outstanding Coach, said. “Jordan did a good job of jumpstarting us. The team came out with a different mindset to start the half and it dictated the rest of the game.”
The Spartans, the regular-season champions and No. 1 seed, regrouped and made it a tug-of-war affair. There were six lead changes and four ties until the Eagles, used a 9-2 run to open their biggest lead at 50-42 with 4:04 on the clock.
They never scored again.
The Spartans appeared to be in a position to take advantage of the opportunity when Steven Whitley scored on a layup and Jordan Butler converted on three free throws to cut the deficit to 50-47 at the 2:23 mark.
Norfolk State had several chances to score or tie the game, but each time the NCCU defense stood tall to the challenge.
“We had problems executing down the stretch, but the good thing is that we were able to put together stops when we needed to,” Moton said. “Douglas and Raasean Davis were huge in defending the rim. We got production from a number of people that contributed to this win.“
The NCCU bench outscored the Spartans 23-14 in this low-scoring affair.
Douglas (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Davis (eight points, 14 rebounds) helped the Eagles with 41-29 advantage on the boards while helping limit the talented Spartans to 34 percent shooting, 18 percent in the second stanza.
“Even though we did not shoot the ball well, we felt that we had a chance,” Spartans head coach Robert Jones, the MEAC Coach of the Year, said. “When we were down 47-40 with seven minutes left, we felt that we were in good shape. I told the players that we have been here before. But we had opportunities but just could not convert.”
With 8.8 seconds remaining and the score at 50-47, Mastadi Pitt attempted a 3-pointer that would have tied the score, but it went just wide of the basket as time expired and the Eagles began to celebrate their third straight tournament title and fourth in six years.
The last MEAC men’s program to win three straight tournament titles was North Carolina A&T State, which won seven in a row from 1982-88.
Norfolk State was led by Pitt with 14 and 13 by C.J. Kelly off the bench. Derrik Jamerson and Nic Thomas, both second team all-MEAC selections, failed to score. Jamerson was hobbled with a severe ankle injury and took no shots in 11 minutes.
The Spartans will take on Alabama on Wednesday on the road in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) first round after the bracket was announced on Sunday evening on ESPNU.
The Spartans will be the No. 8 seed in the tournament and will face No. 1 seed Crimson Tide at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Norfolk State secured the MEAC’s automatic bid to the NIT after capturing the regular season title at 14-2. The Spartans own a 21-13 overall record.
The game will be shown live on ESPNU.
Douglas and Davis of NCCU, Kelly, and Pitt of Norfolk State and Kameron Langley of North Carolina A&T State were named to the All-Tournament Team. Davis was named the Outstanding Performer and LeVelle Moton the Outstanding Coach.