DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — What a difference a year makes in the MEAC standings.
Last season, the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats finished 10th in the league with a record of 6-10, while the North Carolina A&T Aggies finished in last place at 1-15. Both were projected to be towards the bottom of the standings in the preseason polls for the 2017-18 season, but they have managed to flip the script.
The Aggies (8-2) and Wildcats (7-3) sit second and third in the league standings in advance of Monday’s action, respectively, and will be looking to keep pace atop the league standings.
On the flip side, the North Carolina Central Eagles find themselves in some unfamiliar territory through 10 league games, as they sit in a tie for fifth spot at 6-4. After winning the tournament title a season ago, they are looking to return to the Big Dance.
Monday night pits the Wildcats and Eagles against one another for the only regular season meeting between the two programs in 2017-18. Both teams are looking to catch the Savannah State Tigers atop the conference standings, and while that’s no easy feat, a win for either program on Monday will go a long way as they continue the stretch run.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Monday’s top-five MEAC showdown between Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central.
Last Time Out
In their last outing, the Eagles were looking for a bounce-back performance against the Florida A&M Rattlers. North Carolina Central fell to the Hampton Pirates at home in their previous outing, and were looking to kick off a two game Florida road swing with a victory over the Rattlers. However, Florida A&M had other plans, and they held down their home court with a 65-56 win over the Eagles.
The loss dropped the Eagles to 6-4 in MEAC play, and into a tie for fifth in the league standings.
Big man Raasean Davis recorded a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Eagles in the loss. Pablo Rivas narrowly missed a double-double of his own, posting 12 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. Larry McKnight Jr. added seven points and five rebounds of his own in a reserve role.
Bethune-Cookman was much more successful in their last outing in comparison to the Eagles. The Wildcats welcomed the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks to Moore Gymnasium on Saturday to continue their four-game home swing. It was a two-point game with just over 11 minutes to play in the second half, then the Wildcats kicked their offense up a notch. Bethune-Cookman pulled away for the 87-67 win over the Hawks.
With the win, the Wildcats completed the two-game regular season sweep of Eastern Shore.
Isaiah Bailey had himself a career night for the Wildcats, and he led a balanced offensive attack for the home side. He recorded a career-best 24 points, while also adding six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. Shawntrez Davis added 19 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double, while Soufiyane Diakite narrowly missed a double-double of his own with eight points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats had six players score at least eight points in the win.
Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central met just once during the regular season in 2016-17. They met once more in the quarterfinals of the MEAC Tournament in Norfolk, VA, and the top-seeded Eagles rolled to victory. North Carolina Central flexed their muscle against the Wildcats, picking up a 95-60 win to punch their ticket to the semifinals of the tournament.
For the Wildcats, the back court pair of Reggie Baker and Quinton Forrest led the way on offense. They scored 13 points and two rebounds apiece in the loss, while shooting a combined 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Brandon Tabb finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
All five starters for the Eagles scored in double figures in the win. Patrick Cole flirted with a triple-double, finishing the day with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. Fellow guard Dajuan Graf scored a game-high 18 points to go along with nine assists, while Rashaun Madison went 5-of-9 from three point range for 15 points of his own.
Players to Watch
North Carolina Central
– 15.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.0 bpg; 68.7% FG, 61.3% FT in 24 games.
– Davis ranks seventh in the country in field goal percentage, and is tops among players outside of the power conferences.
– He has recorded two double-doubles over his last three games, and has seven such performances throughout the 2017-18 season.
– 8.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.7 apg; 45.8% FG, 46.2% 3PT in 24 games.
– Perkins is one of just two players on the Eagles this season to play in all 24 games (Davis).
– He has a 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman in 2017-18, racking up 112 assists to 64 turnovers.
– 15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 0.8 spg; 42.0% FG, 79.0% FT in 24 games.
– Bailey has recorded at least 10 points and six assists in five straight games, and in seven of his last nine outings overall.
– He has scored in double figures on 22 occasions this season, and has topped the 20-point mark six times.
– 14.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 bpg; 55.5% FG, 40.8% 3PT in 25 games.
– Davis has recorded a double-double in three straight games, including a 30-point (10-of-11 FG), 17-rebound performance against the Norfolk State Spartans.
– He has 11 double-doubles on the year, which is his first with the Wildcats and first at the Division I level.
After two losses last season to the Eagles, one can bet that Bethune-Cookman will be looking for a little bit of redemption on Monday night in Daytona Beach, FL.
Both the Wildcats and Eagles are right in the thick of things when it comes to the race for the MEAC regular season title race. With six games remaining, including Monday’s tilt, each and every win is important. North Carolina Central is three games back of Savannah State, while the Wildcats sit two games back.
After a dismal preseason prediction in the MEAC standings, the Wildcats have been one of the more pleasant surprises this season. They have talent on both sides of the ball, and a balanced rotation that sees several players step up on a nightly basis. With a chip on their shoulder after last year’s 35-point loss in the MEAC Tournament to the Eagles, the Wildcats will come out on Monday night and pick up a big home win over North Carolina Central.
Bethune-Cookman – 78
North Carolina Central – 72
– T. Bennett