N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton said before former chancellor Debra Saunders-White died, she had one request of the head basketball coach.
To win a MEAC championship.
The Eagles (25-8) did that, and now they will head to the NCAA tournament as a 16 seed to play UC Davis (22-12) in one of the four play-in games at 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday (truTV) in Dayton, Ohio. The winner gets a date with No. 1 seed Kansas in the Midwest Region.
Saunders-White, the school’s chancellor for three years, died in November from cancer.
Never miss a local story.
“She’d be hugging me right now, saying ‘let’s go to the Final Four. Next is a Final Four’ ” Moton said. “So it ain’t stopping with her. She was a winner. She was a champion and she had the heart of a lion.”
This is N.C. Central’s second NCAA Division I tournament appearance in school history. The school went to Division I in 2011.
The first time the Eagles made it to the NCAA tournament was in 2014. After 28 wins that season, the Eagles earned a No. 14 seed and played No. 3 seed Iowa State.
The Eagles lost that game in 2014, but their play-in game against UC Davis gives them a good chance to win their first NCAA tournament game in school history.
Moton admitted he didn’t know much about UC Davis, as the Aggies play on the West Coast.
“They probably don’t know a bunch about us as well,” Moton said. “We’ll pull an all-nighter and study and put a game plan together for a really good basketball team.”
UC Davis is in Davis, Calif. The school has about 36,000 students. The Aggies are members of the Big West conference and turned Division I in 2007.
The Aggies finished second in the Big West regular season. They had no wins against teams in the top 100 in RPI rating. They were 3-4 against teams in the top 150. The Aggies’ best win came against Santa Carla, who finished 17-16. Their worst loss came against UC Riverside, who finished the season 7-21.
The Aggies have three scorers who average 10 or more points a game. Their leading scorer is Brynton Lemar, a 6-4 195-pound guard, who averages 16.1 points per game. As a team, they average 70.1 points per game.
By comparison, the Eagles’ best win came against Northern Kentucky, a No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. But their worst loss, which happened during the last regular season game, came against N.C. A&T, which was ranked the worst team in the country and had no wins against Division I opponents all season.
The Eagles’ leading scorer is Pat Cole, a 6-5, 210-pound guard, who averages 19.5 points 7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Cole, a senior, was also the MEAC player of the year. Senior guard Dajuan Graf, 6-1, 185 pounds, is second on the team in scoring, with 14.3 points per game and 5.2 assists.
Known for defense, the Eagles give up 63.4 points per game, which is 22nd-best in the country.
Cole said the Eagles won’t be afraid of any team they play, whether its UC Davis or Kansas.
“It’s one game at a time now,” Cole said. “You win or you go home. And around this time, nobody wants to go home. No one wants to stop playing basketball. Basketball is our life so, we going to go out here and look to get a couple of wins and a couple of upsets.”
NC Central vs. UC Davis
When: 6:40 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Dayton, Ohio