PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — Little did we know at the start of the season, but the race for the MEAC crown is shaping up to be one of the more exciting ones in the country.
Heading into Monday’s action, as many as eight teams looked to have a realistic shot at the title. Some teams have stronger chances than others, but anything can happen on any given night. While only one team had a winning record overall on the year, the level of parity in the league from one through ten is what makes the race that enticing.
Down in Princess Anne on Monday, two teams that were looking to move up in the standings squared off. The Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks were looking to stay in the top half of the standings, while the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats were looking to play spoiler and move up the standing themselves.
The Wildcats got hot towards the end of the first half and took a five point lead into the break. In the second, the Hawks fought their way back into the game, and forced overtime.
A pair of free throws in the final minute of the extra frame by Bakari Copeland gave the Hawks a slim 82-61 lead. The Wildcats had the last shot of the game, but it was off the mark, and the Hawks escaped with the one-point win at home over Bethune-Cookman.
For just the second time this season, Ryan Andino came off the bench for the Hawks. The last time he did that was back in non-conference play against the Wichita State Shockers, where he went for 27 points in the Hawks’ loss.
Early on, Andino hit a trio of three pointers before the halfway point of the first half, leading the way for the Hawks early on.
But, the Wildcats would get hot themselves from three point range, and corner threes from Reggie Baker and Brandon Tabb late in the first half paced the Wildcats to a five-point lead at the break, 39-34.
Fast forward to late in the second half, with the Wildcats leading the Hawks by three with under a minute to play. Maryland-Eastern Shore completed the comeback, thanks to a free throw from Logan McIntosh and a timely layup from Copeland to tie the game at 74-all, thus forcing the extra frame.
In the extra period, the Wildcats found themselves with a lead once again in the final minute. Up 81-80 in the closing minute, Bethune-Cookman was again unable to hold on for the win. Two free throws from Copeland gave the Hawks an 82-81 cushion, but the Wildcats had the last shot of the night.
With time winding down, Diamante Lewis put up a last second shot for the Wildcats that would have given them the win, but it was off the mark. Maryland-Eastern Shore sent their fans home happy with an 82-81 victory in overtime over Bethune-Cookman.
Despite the loss, it was an impressive showing for all five starters for the Wildcats. All give scored in double-figures, led by Reggie Baker’s game-high 26 points. He also added 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Diamante Lewis put together another solid performance, recording 15 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals.
In 35 minutes off the bench for the Hawks, Ryan Andino scored 22 points, on 6-of-12 shooting from three point range. Bakari Copeland added 22 points and 7 rebounds in the victory.
Junior Logan McIntosh chipped in with 12 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds.
The loss was the second straight, and sixth in the last seven games, for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (5-20, 2-9). They will look to get back on track on Saturday at home against the Hampton Pirates.
With the win, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (9-17, 6-5) move back above .500 in MEAC play. They will go for their second straight win on Saturday at home against the North Carolina Central Eagles.
– T. Bennett