NORFOLK, Va. — A two-game losing streak to enthe regular season is all but a distant memory for the North Carolina Central Eagles.
Losses to the Savannah State Tigers and North Carolina A&T Aggies generated a bit of concern surrounding the Eagles heading into the MEAC Tournament. However, the Eagles had the top seed in the tournament locked up, and they weren’t too concerned with their level of play.
On Wednesday, in their quarter-final match-up with the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, the Eagles flexed their muscle and showed why they are the team to beat.
The Wildcats were playing their second game in as many days, and were coming off a win over the Delaware State Hornets in the First Round on Tuesday, 69-62. With the Eagles having several days of rest in between games, they came out with fresh legs and pulled away early.
North Carolina Central cruised to the 95-60 win over Bthune-Cookman, thus earning themselves a spot in the semifinals on Friday.
It was a balanced effort on offense that led North Carolina Central to victory. All five starters scored in double-figures, and 10 of the 12 players who saw game action recorded at least two points.
Leading the way was Patrick Cole, who was named the MEAC Player of the Year over the weekend. He recorded a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, while also dishing out eight assists. Dajuan Graf scored a game-high 18 points to go along with his nine rebounds.
Reggie Baker and Quinton Forrest scored 13 points apiece to lead the Wildcats, while a trio of starters all recorded seven points each in the loss.
North Carolina Central led comfortably at the break, holding a 50-32 lead over the Wildcats. In the second half, they continued to pull away and show why they are the team to beat in the MEAC Tournament this year. The Eagles outscored their opponents by 17 points in the second half to come away with the 35-point victory to extend their season, 95-60.
Bethune-Cookman was limited to just 35.7% (20-of-56) shooting from the field. The Eagles, however, shot about 54% in the opening half, and finished the game shooting an even 54.0% (34-of-63) from the field.
The loss brings an end to an up-and-down season for Bethune-Cookman (10-22, 6-10). They played the season without Jordan Potts, which was a factor in several of their close losses. However, with the likes of Ulmer Manzie and Brandon Tabb potentially back next season, the future is bright for the Wildcats.
With the win, North Carolina Central (23-8) now has a day off before their semifinal match-up on Friday. The Eagles will take on the winner of Thursday night’s game between the Hampton Pirates and the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks.
– T. Bennett