SAN ANTONIO — N.C. Central introduced its mens basketball team to America on Friday night.
The No. 14 seed Eagles ran their motion offense, found their shots and used their suffocating defense to great effect in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They held an early lead, trailed by just six at halftime, made great plays, and scared No. 3 seed Iowa State, but in the end, the Cyclones were too talented and too deep, pulling out a 93-75 victory at the AT&T Center.
The Cyclones disrupted N.C. Centrals offense during the second half, limiting senior guard Jeremy Ingram to 28 points. Meanwhile their trio of senior DeAndre Kane, junior Dustin Hoge and sophomore Georges Niang took over offensively and helped Iowa State open a 15-point lead with 10 minutes, 55 seconds remaining.
The Cyclones had five players score in double figures and shot 63 percent from the field.
Its extremely difficult to slow them down, N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton said. Youre basically picking your poison. Those are pros out there, man, and youve got to decide if youre going to double Kane and leave out some shooters and be late on rotation , or if youre just going to play it straight up. Its a nightmare.
Kanes smooth perimeter game coupled with the hustle of Hoge and Niang inside wore the Eagles down. Once the Cyclones were moving in transition, the Eagles had little hope and Iowa States lead inched to 20 points with eight minutes to go on a Niang 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The Cyclones went 9 of 17 from 3-point range.
Despite Fridays disappointing loss, N.C. Central fans will mark this season down as one for the ages, considering the exciting run their basketball team made.
The Eagles made the NCAA tournament as a Division I team for the first time in school history. They captured the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship for the first time, having moved from Division II to Division I in 2011.
There were signature wins over N.C. State and Old Dominion. There was a dominating stretch of play during the MEAC regular season where the Eagles finished 15-1 and captured that title.
They were unbeaten at home (14-0) for the first time since the 1997-98 season dispatching teams at McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.
The team won the second-most regular-season games (25) since John McLendons squad finished 26-5 in 1950-51.
Right now its kind of hard for me to swallow this and give out how proud I am of our accomplishments, N.C. Central guard Emanuel Chapman said. But the thing Im most proud of is that everything that we did and everything that we accomplished in our conference ... we did everything together.
They also captured the first basketball conference tournament championship in school history in 64 years. That earned them a berth into the NCAA tournament.
I didnt want to tell our kids that, said Moton, who was born in Boston and is a Red Sox fan. Hes lived with his favorite baseball team being cursed and couldnt escape similar comparisons to N.C. Central.
Youre hearing the same type of stories associated with North Carolina Central, he added. Its not on a national scale. Weve had great basketball teams. But it was 64 years since we won a conference tournament title. I didnt even mention that to them. I didnt want that in their head. I didnt want it in my head.
No one will talk about curses for a while. Conversations will center on the highlights of a remarkable season including the night where Moton matched wits with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
The Eagles played evenly with the Cyclones for much of the first half. The Cyclones went on an 8-0 run with 3:55 remaining in the first half to take a 38-30 lead the largest of the half.
N.C. Central crawled back behind six points from Ingram, who once again showed his scoring versatility making jump shots and attacking the rim.
To close the first half, Hoge found himself free under the basket to put-back a missed shot by Kane. Hoge slammed the ball at the buzzer, giving the Cyclones a 45-39 halftime lead.
Still, the Cyclones trio Kane, Niang and Hoge were able to collect enough points in transition and inside to negate much of N.C. Centrals defensive efforts. The Eagles were outscored 32-14 in the paint.
Overall, Im just proud of our guys, Moton said.