Jeremy Ingram scored a game-high 29 points, but it was some deft free throw shooting that proved to be the difference as North Carolina Central pulled away to a 71-62 win over Morgan State in the MEAC Tournament championship at the Norfolk Scope.
In the process, the Eagles (28-5) capture their first ever MEAC tournament title since rejoining the conference in 2011. North Carolina Central receives the automatic bid and awaits its seeding on Sunday during the NCAA Selection committee announcement.
“You’ve got to be extremely tough,” North Carolina Central Head Coach LeVelle Moton said.
“Hats off to Morgan State as it was a heck of a championship game. I thought we started off really well. We had more disciple, but got into some foul trouble. They killed us on the offensive glass, which was a big concern. We didn’t finish the half like we were supposed to. I wasn’t concerned with the offensive end of the floor. It was going to go down to toughness and 50-50 balls. We just made plays down the stretch.”
The two teams battled back and forth in the first 20 minutes like two heavyweight champions. There were six ties and three lead changes with neither team leading by more than four. Ingram supplied the offense, tallying 18 of his team’s points on seven-for-10 shooting from the field, including a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc.
“Our strategy was to plan man and we were going to switch it up,” Morgan State Head Coach Todd Bozeman said.
“But I thought we did a good job. Just because he had 29 points doesn’t mean we couldn’t win the game. I thought it was a one possession game for a large part there in the end. It’s not like we got blown out, but he carried them.”
The Bears (15-16), the Number 3 seed, got their points by spreading the wealth, led by Ian Chiles 10 points and eight each from Anthony Hubbard and Blake Bozeman. It is worth mentoring that the Bears’ leading scorer, Justin Black, who came into the game averaging 29 points in the two games, picked up two early fouled and went scoreless.
The two teams continued to battle in the second half of the MEAC tournament until the Eagles got a push. After Black tied the game at 42 with 13:17 remaining, North Carolina Central began to take control. During one stretch, the Eagles hit 16 straight free throws to keep the Bears at bay.
At the other end, the Bears were forced to take three pointers in an attempt to get closer, but there was little margin for error and the Eagles, who have now won 20 in a row.
Watch the MEAC Tournament Championship Highlights:
The win by North Carolina overshadowed an incredible performance by Chiles, the 7-foot-2 senior center for Morgan State, who had perhaps the best game of his career with 26 points, six rebounds
And several altered shots by the Eagles. Chiles fouled out Jay Copeland and Jordan Parks, who took turns defending him.
In addition to Chiles’ 26, Anthony Hubbard chipped in with 12 and Bozeman contributed 10. Black scored all of his nine points after intermission.
“We fought every time and today the better team won,” Chiles said. “They had a great season and did a lot of good things. Jeremy had a great game.”
For the Eagles, the regular season champion, Karamo Jawara complemented Ingram’s 29 with 10 points.
For North Carolina Central, it all came down to free throw shooting, where they converted 25 of 30 in the second half for 83 percent.
“The loss last year in the tournament motivated us,” Ingram said. “We lost that game when we shouldn’t have. We just came out and took it one game at a time and just gave it our all.”
2014 MEAC All-Tournament team
Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
Pendarvis Williams, Norfolk State
Du’Vaughn Maxwell, Hampton
Justin Black, Morgan State
James Daniel, Howard
MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Performer
Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Coach
LeVelle Moton, North Carolina Central
Source: MEAC Media Relations