Last season, Jeremy Ingram led North Carolina Central to an impressive 22-9 overall record (15-1 MEAC) with a little help from his teammates. This season we knew that Ingram would be back, as would a few others - though most of the secondary scoring was not part of that group.
Ingram got off to a hot start, averaging 25.7 ppg over NCCU's first three outings, but it was still a question mark as to who would join him in helping LeVelle Moton's squad end up on the right side of the scoreboard. Over those three games, Ingram cracked 20 points all three times and almost had 30 in the team's last outing against Campbell, but nobody else on the team had passed 30 total points thusfar.
So how would this team - which so far had only given substantial minutes to seven guys - hold up against a big conference foe, on the road, in the form of North Carolina State?
Pretty darn well, it turns out.
To the surprise of no one, if you are aggressive in using your talented, athletic guards to drive the lane, draw fouls, make your free throws, and get the other team in foul trouble, it does quite a lot to level the playing field. The Eagles did exactly that, finishing the night an eye-popping 41-for-45 from the free throw line, compared to 23-for-33 for NC State.
Ingram himself only made four shots from the field all night, but also drained 19-of-21 free throws to wind up with 29 points for the second consecutive game to lead all scorers.
Matter of fact, the free throws seemed to dictate this game. It appeared NCCU had things in hand for sure, until Ingram's miss on his last free throw of regulation (the second of those two misses) led to the run-out and transition three by Patrick Wallace that tied the game at 63-63 with 2.7 seconds left to play.
Then, Wolfpack freshman Anthony Barber, who looks very impressive whether he's 18 or not, managed to have two of his missed free throws in overtime. They could have cut the deficit to three, but instead did nothing to curtail what was a 9-0 run by Ingram alone to start the extra frame. Sure, NC State scored nine points in overtime, but that wasn't until they were down by 10 and struggling to get back into it.
Not to be overlooked are the potential supporting role players who came up in a big way tonight for the Eagles. Emanuel Chapman had to take over the offense for a while when Ingram had to sit due to foul trouble only four minutes into the game, and acquitted himself nicely to the tune of 18 points before fouling out in overtime.
Better still was the performance of junior Karamo Jawara, a transfer from Norway who played zero minutes in the first three games but managed to collect 12 points and 8 rebounds in 44 minutes of playing time (including a strong 10-12 FT). Not only did the Eagles defeat what was (on paper) a superior team on the road, they did it with their best player making two shots from the field and scoring 14 points in the first 32 minutes of the game.
I would argue this bodes well for NCCU if they can roll this momentum back home into their Friday tilt against Appalachian State. For the Wolfpack, on the otherhand, their upcoming schedule (FGCU, Eastern Kentucky, Long Beach State) looks just a bit more daunting after a game they probably assumed they would win tonight.