In the preseason, LeVelle Moton’s N.C. Central basketball team drew a lot of comparisons to his 2013-14 squad. That team won the MEAC regular season and tournament titles, and played in the NCAA tournament.
As unfair as those comparisons were to this team, they are still there. One question Moton was asked, was if his team this season had the same kind of toughness as its legendary predecessors. When practice started in the fall, that was still undetermined. The Eagles (15-6, 6-1) are really good, one of the top two teams in the MEAC. Tough? They have showed flashes in conference play, but haven’t really been tested in weeks.
The Eagles head to Baltimore to play at Morgan State (10-11, 7-1) Saturday and Coppin State on Monday. Moton knows the two Baltimore schools present a whole different challenge.
“This is going to be a toughness game,” Moton said. “Throw the sexy, romantic stats out the window. We’re going to have to impose our physicality because they are definitely going to bring theirs.”
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Moton said the Bears are a “tough group of kids” and are led by a tough coach, Todd Bozeman, who recently became the all-time winningest coach at Morgan State with 169 victories.
“It’s a Baltimore-type kid that you’re playing against,” Moton said. “We definitely respect our opponent, but we have to be physical. We have to hit first. We have to be physical on the glass.”
In the Eagles only conference loss this season, a one-point loss at home to Delaware State, the Hornets brought the fight to them and N.C. Central didn’t respond. Since then, the Eagles have won six straight league games. So far, being physical on the glass has worked. The Bears are the top offensive rebounding team in the MEAC, they protect the rim and are the second-best shot blocking team in the league, averaging 3.6 per game.
Moton said mental and physical toughness go hand in hand. In order to win, N.C. Central will have to win the 50-50 balls and do all the dirty work. Most importantly, when things don’t go their way, they have to respond.
“That will be a true test of our character,” Moton said. “No team is immune to it. We’ll have to encounter it once again. Regardless, whenever that presents itself we have to be tough enough to overcome it. That’s the key, how we respond to it.”
Through three league road games, Moton is proud of how his team has responded away from Durham, with wins at Norfolk State, Hampton and Delaware State. The team has found a way to create its own energy when the fans are booing instead of cheering.
“Everybody is good at home, not just in our league but throughout the country. But in order to be true road warriors you have to go into the lion’s den and take the crowd out the game.”