Year after year, the North Carolina Central Eagles have found themselves either at or near the top of the MEAC standings. They are always a threat to come away with the conference title, and have developed into one of the nation’s premier mid-major programs.
Last season, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks played their best basketball during conference play. They finished with an 11-5 record against MEAC opponents, a record that was good enough for a 3rd place finish in the regular season standings. After years of disappointing finishes in the conference, the 2014-15 season provided a sense of hope and optimism for the Hawks.
On Saturday afternoon, the Eagles and the Hawks will open up MEAC play with an early-December showdown in Durham, North Carolina. Both teams will look to get that ever-important first win over a conference opponent, and make a statement with the win.
Time: 4:00pm EST
Location: McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium, Durham, N.C.
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (1-5)
Saturday afternoon marks the second game on the Hawks’ seven-game road trip that carries them close to the new year. Their first game didn’t go as planned, as the Hawks were outplayed by the Georgetown Hoyas, losing 68-49 in Washington, D.C. Ryan Andino put together a potential break-out performance for the season, scoring 16 points in the loss.
Despite the loss, the Hawks still showed some positives, and have shown that they can play with the ‘big boys’ in the country. In the second half, they had cut into Georgetown’s sizeable second-half lead, and never quit from start to finish. Their determination and willingness to keep fighting until the final buzzer will set them up for success as the season rolls along.
On the back end, the aforementioned Andino enjoyed a breakout performance against the Hoyas. He was expected to be a key contributor this season, but the reigning MEAC Freshman of the Year started the season quiet. He has the shooting ability to be an impact player on the offensive end of the floor, and Coach Collins is hoping that the performance against Georgetown is a sign of things to come for the sophomore guard.
Against North Carolina Central, the Hawks will need to get big performances from the likes of Dominique Elliott and Bakari Copeland in the front court. The forwards of the Hawks are more balanced than those of the Eagles, and will give the visitors a slight edge as the game moves along. Copeland is coming off his first off-game of the season for the Hawks, recording 0 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Look for him to have a bounce-back game on Saturday.
North Carolina Central Eagles (2-4)
Last season, the North Carolina Central Eagles went a perfect 16-0 in conference play, but couldn’t turn that into an NCAA Tournament berth. They were upset in the MEAC Tournament by Delaware State, and then lost to Miami in the opening round of the NIT.
They were unable to translate their remarkable regular season success into an NCAA Tournament berth last year, but are hoping for a bounce-back year this time around. However, the team lost a lot of their production from a season ago, and are relying on unproven players to take over the team. Through their first six games this year, they haven’t looked like their usual mighty selves, but that could all change in the blink of an eye.
Despite losing a ton of on-court talent, one thing remained constant with the team: LeVelle Moton behind the bench. Moton’s name was mentioned in several coaching searches in the off-season, but he opted to stay with the Eagles, and the program is much better with him behind the bench. The Eagles have lost just 1 game in conference play over the last two seasons, and Moton’s coaching has been a big reason why.
In their last time out, the Eagles took down the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, 86-79, for their second win of the season. Five different players reached double-figures for the Eagles, led by Dante Holmes and Rashaun Madison who each scored 20 points in the win.
After losing the talent they did after last season, the likes of Jeremiah Ingram have taken on bigger roles on both ends of the floor. The 6’7” guard recorded a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Delta Devils, and has been a reliable player on both ends of the floor for Moton and the Eagles. He has great size for a guard position, and has the ability to shoot from distance or drive the lane and score through contact.
With the size of Ingram, the Eagles tend to roll with a smaller lineup to start games, leaving 6’7” forward Jay Copeland as the lone true forward in the lineup. They tend to go small, which may not work so well against the Hawks on Saturday afternoon. If they can utilize Jeremiah Worthem and Enoch Hood a little more in the paint, that could take their game to the next level.
Players to Watch
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
Ryan Andino (G) – 6.3 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
Bakari Copeland (F) – 9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
Devin Martin (G) – 14.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg
North Carolina Central Eagles
Jeremiah Ingram (G) – 9.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
Dante Holmes (G) – 14.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
Jay Copeland (F) – 7.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 spg
While it’s still early in the season, this game could go a long way for both teams in MEAC play. Both are expected to contend for the conference title, and this contest will be a good way for each team to see where they stand at the current point in the season.
The Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks need to establish themselves in the paint. They need to get Copeland and Elliott involved early on, and that will open things up for the guards on the back end. If Andino can build off his 16-point performance against the Hoyas, the Hawks will be in good shape.
For the Eagles, playing on their home floor is a big advantage. Plus, the guard duo of Holmes and Ingram have a size advantage over the guards of the Hawks, and that could bode well for them moving on in the game. Look for Moton to utilize Ingram’s combination of size and skill to create different looks for the team.
All in all, this game will be a great game to watch. It will show each team where they stand, and fans will get a great idea of what to expect from each as the season progresses.