North Carolina Central is back in the finals.
One year after winning it all, the Eagles entered the 2018 MEAC Tournament as the No. 6 seed, and perhaps, as strange as it seems, forgotten about this year.
But after pulling off a pair of close wins in the opening two rounds, N.C. Central put together a solid performance in a 79-70 win over Morgan State in the semifinals. Behind another big game from senior Raasean Davis (22 points, nine rebounds), the Eagles will play for their third MEAC Tournament title.
N.C. Central will take on Hampton, who defeated North Carolina A&T in the first semifinal game. The Pirates, the No. 1 seed, defeated N.C. Central 86-70 on Feb. 5.
"Hard fought victory," Eagles' head coach LeVelle Moton said. "We just wanted to establish tempo. We knew they were going to make a run, such is life. We maintained our poise and we were able to make some free throws down the stretch and close it out."
Senior Pablo Rivas added 14 off the bench, giving him his second consecutive game in double digits. The Eagles shot 58 percent from the floor in the game, once again benefiting from an unstoppable Davis around the rim.
North Carolina Central saw a 15-point lead in the second half dwindle down to single digits (five with 8:42 remaining) after Morgan State forward Phillip Carr went on a personal 5-0 run. But after pulling to within five, 60-55, the Eagles went on a 8-0 run to go back up 12 points after a three from Zacarry Douglas and a layup from Larry McKnight Jr.
The Bears came up empty in four straight trips on the offensive end of the floor, missing a layup, a three-pointer, turning the ball over and missing the front end of a one-and-one.
Davis, the redshirt junior from Chicago, followed up his historic double-double performance (16 points, 20 rebounds) with another dominating outing against the Bears' front line. Davis had 15 (7-for-8 from the field) points and six boards at halftime, as Morgan, like Savannah State the night before, had no answer for Davis.
"None of us really want the season to be over," Davis said. "That's really our motivation. We understand if we lose we go home, there's no second chance anymore."
The Eagles led 35-26 at the half, and only trailed once (1-0 at the 19:19 mark). They went up by as many as 16 in the first half and were in front by double figures most of the second.
N.C. Central held the Bears to 39 percent shooting from the field. A goal of Moton's is to hold opponents under 40 percent from the field.