DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The race for the regular season crown in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is shaping up to be a three-horse race between the Savannah State Tigers, North Carolina A&T Aggies, and the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
On Saturday, the Wildcats were looking to keep pace with the Tigers and Aggies atop the league, as they came into the day in third spot. Bethune-Cookman welcomed the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks to town, who were looking to play the role of spoiler on the road.
It was the second of two regular season meetings between the two programs in 2017-18. Back on January 8th, the Wildcats picked up an 89-84 win over the Hawks in Princess Anne, MD.
Eastern Shore was looking for a bit of redemption, but the Wildcats had other ideas.
The Hawks trailed for most of the day, but managed to get within two points at the midway point of the second half. From there, Bethune-Cookman kicked things into high gear, pulling away for the 87-67 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore to keep pace atop the MEAC standings.
Isaiah Bailey had himself a career day for the Wildcats in the win. He scored a career-high 24 points, while also adding six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals in 34 minutes of action. Shawntrez Davis recorded his third straight double-double, chipping in 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Brandon Tabb added 16 points of his own, while Soufiyane Diakite narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds.
The pair of Tyler Jones and Miryne Thomas led the way for the Hawks. Each recorded 21 points on the afternoon, while Thomas added eight rebounds in the loss. Logan McIntosh was held to just six points, on 2-of-11 shooting, to go along with four assists.
It was a back-and-forth start to the game, as the Wildcats and Hawks traded leads for the first nine minutes of action. A jumper from McIntosh tied the game at 15-all with 11:12 to play in the opening frame. Houston Smith answered with a three pointer for the Wildcats, and the home side was off and running.
Bethune-Cookman wouldn’t trail the rest of the way, but the Hawks continued to fight and did their best to keep things interesting. The Wildcats took a 12-point lead at the break, but Maryland-Eastern Shore came out of the break looking to cut into the lead.
With 11:05 to play in the game, M. Thomas hit a jumper to bring the Hawks to within a pair, at 56-54. That was as close as the visitors would get in the second half, as the Wildcats kicked their offense into another gear and pulled away down the stretch.
Davis answered Thomas’ jumper with a three pointer to push the Wildcats’ lead back to five, and they would continue the offensive onslaught for the final 10 minutes. The lead would reach as many as 21 points in the closing minute, and Bethune-Cookman cruised down the stretch to the 87-67 win, sweeping the regular season series with the Hawks in the process.
With the win, Bethune-Cookman (13-12, 7-3) remain in third place in the MEAC standings, two games behind Savannah State for top spot. The Wildcats will look to take another step towards the conference title when they host the North Carolina Central Eagles on Monday night inside Moore Gymnasium.
Maryland-Eastern Shore (6-20, 2-9) was unable to build off a win in their previous outing, giving them just one win in their last nine games. The Hawks continue their four-game road trip with a date against the Howard Bison on Monday night in the nation’s capitol.
– T. Bennett