Norfolk, VA — The building was electric and the intensity was palpable as North Carolina Central and Norfolk State did battle between the lines in the MEAC championship game. NC Central defeated Norfolk State 67-59 inside the Norfolk Scope Arena to capture the title and claim the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The championship gives the NC Central Eagles their second NCAA Tournament berth in school history. In the title game, the Eagles were led by their normal cast of steady guards, starting with Patrick Cole, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. Dajuan Graf added 17 more and three-point threat Rashaun Madison had 12.
From the opening tip, it was evident the Eagles and Spartans were in for a tight battle.
Stiff half-court defense with physical hedges on screens, wing denials, constant ball pressure, and rough box outs posed challenges to each offense. Points off turnovers for NCCU and second-chance points were often the best option for the teams to manufacture points.
The Spartans went to their bench, receiving a spark from multiple reserves. That eased the burden on Jonathan Wade, who struggled in the first half. Kyle Williams scored eight points and as a team, the Spartans asserted themselves on the glass.
NC Central trailed by only three entering the second half, but it felt as if Norfolk State had all the energy.
Norfolk State led 46-43 when MEAC Player of the Year Patrick Cole used a rip through baseline dribble-drive, barely elevating, to finish a gorgeous floater over the outstretched arms of two Spartans. Graf, a second-team all-MEAC selection, went coast-to-coast on the ensuing possession, which started a 19-0 run by the Eagles to swing the momentum.
The Eagles were tougher on the glass and more active defensively during the run, forcing Norfolk State into nothing but contested jump shots. NC Central held Norfolk State without a field goal for 11 minutes.
Zaynah Robinson tried to keep the Spartans afloat with 18 points, but no other player from Norfolk State registered in double figures. The afternoon belonged to the Eagles, with their defensive grit, focus, togetherness, and fans. Next up: the NCAA Tournament.