DURHAM — It took three eligible years and an overtime for the N.C. Central mens basketball team to win its first regular season MEAC title since rejoining the conference in 2011.
Its surreal, Chapman said. I cant thank (the fans) enough.
Even the wintery mix couldnt keep NCCU fans from coming out to the nationally televised game on ESPNU. When the final buzzer sounded, solidifying the 64-57 overtime win over Savannah State, it became a party. Fans in white shirts that read, NCCU #ProtectTheNest stormed the court. Some danced while the band played music to celebrate the conference title.
After the game, NCCU coach LeVelle Moton and players grabbed a microphone and thanked the fans at center court for all of their support this season.
That has absolutely nothing to do with me, he said. It has to do with these students-athletes, and this group but most importantly you all, he told the crowd.
Athletic director Ingrid Wicker-McCree said she was truly amazed at the hard work and everything that has been put into this season.
I think coach Moton and his staff have done a tremendous job with these young men and making sure they understand the goal, she added. There is a clear vision, and theyre all on one accord.
A group of fans stayed behind to watch the team and its contributors cut down the nets. Even the chancellor cut down a strand.
This is the byproduct of sacrifice, commitment, hard work and dedication and faith in God, Moton said. Its incredible. Im speechless.
Although the Eagles (24-5, 14-1 MEAC) will be favorites going into the MEAC tournament, Mondays win didnt come easy. Moton had previously said any night any team in the conference could lose to one another because there are no dominant teams.
The Eagles led at halftime 23-18 before Savannah State (11-18, 9-6) tied the game on a last second layup to send the game into overtime. It was one of a few close conference games this season for the Eagles, who won 10 of their 14 conference wins by 10 points or more.
Senior guard Emanuel Chapman of Raleigh, led the way in overtime, hitting a crucial 2-point jump shot to extend his teams lead 57-54 with 2:24 remaining. Savannah State never got closer. Junior forward Jordan Parks and senior guard Jeremy Ingram led all scorers with 17 points each. Chapman finished with 14 points and 7 assists.
Did he tell you he was scared the first 15 minutes, his coach joked before speaking to reporters.
Chapman laughed as he walked away.
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1