BALTIMORE, Md. — Wednesday marks the beginning of conference play for teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), and what a time it is!
The MEAC is often the butt end of jokes around the college basketball landscape, as it is regarded as one of the worst conferences in the country. Entering Wednesday night, all 13 teams in the conference have sub-.500 records, and nine teams have double digit losses after non-conference play. The Coppin State Eagles are still looking for their first win of the year (0-15).
With all the negativity surrounding the conference, there is plenty of talent to be had across the board. Star freshmen emerged early in the 2017-18 season, and the top scoring guard from last season has picked up right where he left off, despite playing just three games this year.
On Wednesday, a pair of those star freshmen lead their team into battle against a team with the top inside-out duo in the conference. Freshmen Cameron Bacote and Miryne Thomas lead the Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks into Baltimore for a Wednesday night match-up with Tiwian Kendley and the Morgan State Bears.
The Bears are looking to end a seven game losing streak, while the Hawks are looking to build off a win in their last outing. Both teams were projected to finish in the top six in the preseason polls, so Wednesday night will be a test for both programs.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of the first of two meetings this season between Maryland Eastern Shore and Morgan State.
The injury concerns for Maryland Eastern Shore this season have been well documented. Head coach Bobby Collins has had to empty his bench this season, both due to injury concerns and foul trouble. All 11 players listed on the team’s official roster on ESPN, scholarship players and walk-ons alike, have played at least 10 games and are averaging at least 4.5 minutes per game.
Only two players this season are averaging double-digit points per game: Logan McIntosh (10.5) and Ahmad Frost (10.1). Despite missing three games due to an ankle injury sustained in the season opener, McIntosh has been the Hawks’ best player, averaging 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game to go along with his team-high scoring mark. He brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young roster for the Hawks, and you can’t put a price on that.
The return of Frost has also given the Hawks a little spark on both ends of the floor. The sophomore is averaging 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game this season, and is a bright spot for the team after missing all of last season due to injury. Add in the emergence of freshmen Cameron Bacote (9.1 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Miryne Thomas (9.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and the future of the Hawks looks bright next season, barring everyone who’s eligible stays in Princess Anne, MD.
Last time out, the Hawks struggled at home in their win over Central Pennsylvania College, 74-69. The win ended a six game slide for the Hawks, but it didn’t come without some concerns. Once again, the depth for Eastern Shore was tested, especially up front. At one point, the 6’3” Bacote was the tallest player on the court for the Hawks. Heading into MEAC play, the forwards for the Hawks will need to stay out of foul trouble, as some teams focus their offense around their front court.
If the forwards put themselves in foul trouble on a regular basis, it could be a long couple of months for the Hawks.
On Wednesday, forwards Phillip Carr and David Syfax will look to exploit the thin front court rotation of the Hawks and guide Morgan State to a victory in the MEAC opener for both programs. Riding a seven game losing streak, the Bears are looking for some sort of positive momentum to kick off the New Year.
Carr, a player that many projected as the MEAC Player of the Year in 2017-18, is averaging 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. He has three straight double-doubles, and seven total double-double performances on the season. With Kendley back in the picture, Carr has more freedom inside to work around the basket, resulting in his recent three game stretch of strong play.
The key for the Bears could very well be sophomore guard Martez Cameron. Prior to the return of Kendley, Cameron has eight double-digit point games in 10 contests. Since Kendley’s return, he has a combined 11 points over three games. Cameron is still averaging 10.0 points per game this season, but hasn’t quite been the same player over the last three games. If he can find his form from the start of the season, and the Bears can find a way to spread the offense around, their offense will go to another level.
With both teams possessing talented back court rotations, Wednesday night’s game will be won in the front court. The sheer presence of Carr gives the edge up front to the Bears. With their depth and overall experience, Morgan State will look to get their forwards involved early on and get the younger forwards for the Hawks into foul trouble early and force them to go to a smaller lineup.
Players to Watch
Maryland Eastern Shore – Cameron Bacote
It’s been an up-and-down season for freshman Cameron Bacote. He started the season with a 28-point performance in his debut against Valley Forge, and followed that up with an 18-point showing in game two. Then, he came off the bench and didn’t score more than seven points in a game from November 18th through to December 10th, a span of eight games. On December 10th, against the Virginia Tech Hokies, Bacote scored 12 points, and he has scored in double-figures in four of his last five games overall. With a thin roster for the Hawks, the team needs constant production from the freshman, who is averaging 9.1 points and 2.3 assists per game. Bacote has shown that he has the capabilities to lead the offense from a scoring perspective, and if the Hawks want to make some noise in MEAC play, Bacote needs to see consistent minutes. That all starts on Wednesday night against Morgan State, as this would be a huge win for the Hawks’ confidence moving forward in 2018.
Morgan State – Tiwian Kendley
While he has only played three games this season, senior guard Tiwian Kendley has picked up right where he left off last season. Kendley has a pair of 31-point performances to his name this season, and is coming off a 29-point showing in the Bears’ last game. He is averaging 30.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.0 steals per game this season, and while Morgan State has gone 0-3 since his return, the addition of Kendley makes the Bears arguably the top team in the MEAC. The Bears started the season 4-2 without the services of Kendley, a stretch that included a road win over the South Florida Bears. Kendley is one of the top scorers in the country, and with MEAC play opening up on Wednesday night, look for the 6’5” guard to use his size and shooting ability to torch the dismal defensive unit of Maryland Eastern Shore. Don’t be surprised if Kendley adds a third 30+ game to his resume on Wednesday night.
The return of Tiwian Kendley has added another element to the offense for the Bears. Despite having lost seven straight games overall, since Kendley has returned to the lineup, Morgan State has scored above their season average in all three of his games.
On Wednesday, the Bears will be going up against a Maryland Eastern Shore team that struggles to score (350th, 56.9 ppg), and struggles to keep teams off the scoreboard (T-313th, 79.5ppg). That’s a recipe for success for Morgan State, despite their recent skid.
Look for Kendley to go for 30+ points for the third time this season, leading Morgan State to their first win since November 27th.
Morgan State – 77
Maryland Eastern Shore – 60
– T. Bennett