That win over N.C. State was no fluke.
After N.C. Central “upset” the Wolfpack 82-72 in overtime Nov. 20, you heard the naysayers: The Eagles just happened to play a near-perfect game, or N.C. State had an “off night.”
But three months later, the NCCU machine is still steamrolling along.
The Eagles (19-5 overall, 10-1 MEAC) have a two-game lead in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after Saturday’s 67-53 win over South Carolina State. Four of their five losses were to Cincinnati, Indiana (Pa.) University, Wichita State and Maryland. Along the way, they defeated Campbell, Appalachian State, Winthrop and Old Dominion.
NCCU’s one conference loss was to Florida A&M in January, but the Eagles made the Rattlers pay in a 92-49 rematch victory.
“It was personal,” junior forward Karamo Jawara said. “We could hear them in the locker room next to ours celebrating” after FAMU won the first game. “We don’t want that feeling again.”
NCCU has won 11 straight games for the second consecutive season and is 21-0 at home – the school’s longest home winning streak.
“The best thing about it is when our starters are on the bench, they cheer for the other players every single time,” said Moton who became the school’s fifth coach to reach 80 wins. “And that’s what it’s all about. They’re becoming a team and beginning to love one another and really care about each other, and it showcases itself on the defensive end of the floor.”
The outside world is finally taking notice.
ESPNU added the Eagles’ March 3 matchup against Savannah State in Durham to its TV lineup – another first for Eagle Nation.
But NCCU fans were on edge before the season started. A couple of players had transferred, including starter Stanton Kidd (14.5 point per game). Also gone was senior starter Ray Willis to graduation. But the Eagles haven’t skipped a beat.
Senior guard Emanuel Chapman can go scoreless and still be the team’s most valuable player. The all-time assist leader is now at No. 4 with 159 career steals. Team scoring leader Jeremy Ingram (18.8 ppg) is 17th with 1,267 points.
But any player can be the hero on any given night.
Jawara’s clutch free throw shooting helped NCCU in wins over Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore. Mt. Zion Academy’s Reggie Groves nailed five 3-pointers to lead the Eagles past Bethune-Cookman, and on it goes.
“To be a great team you have to make sacrifices. Other people getting involved, that’s going to help us win championships,” Ingram said. “Me just scoring the ball isn’t going to win us championships because if I’m off, whose going to pick us up? We just want to win, I could care less about points.”
Still, Eaglites remember last season around this time. That team, which finished 22-9 and 15-1 in the conference, won 16 of its last 17 regular-season games. Both Norfolk State, which won the division with an unblemished record, and NCCU were upset in the MEAC Tournament.
Only the tourney champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA. The division leader receives a bid to the NIT, which went to the Spartans. NCCU did get invited to participate in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament but declined.
So streaks and milestones aside, Moton is not conceding anything until March 7, the end of the regular season. A No. 1 seed would guarantee NCCU a postseason berth. Whether it’s the Big Dance or the NIT remains to be seen.
The FAMU loss “was a defining moment,” Moton said. “We don’t celebrate like that when we win a basketball game. I told them to remember it.”