As has been previously mentioned on here, the MEAC Tournament serves as a family gathering. The tournament serves functions that go beyond Our Game in the networking of the HBCUs in the states on the Atlantic coast. The MEAC Tournament has in previous years been in cities such as Richmond, Norfolk, and Raleigh. This was the final year of Winston-Salem's four year contract to host the tournament, with the tournament set to move back to Norfolk next year. Winston-Salem's arena is mostly used for ACC basketball during the regular season with Wake Forest using the facility that is a couple miles from their campus and across the street from their football stadium. As mentioned in my last recap, the MEAC Tournament costs a lot of money to attend. This was the last year for Winston-Salem to tap into this revenue source.
When the contract was signed, the MEAC had hoped that nearby Winston-Salem State would be participating once they finished their transition to Division I. The Rams had played in exhibition games against other Division I HBCUs not eligible for the tournament. But in their final year of the transition, WSSU ran out of money to carry through the transition. The money was expected to come from the raising of student fees on campus. But the State of North Carolina put a hold to its public universities hiking its tuitions and other related costs. Fewer students after the downfall of the economy were able to pay, and WSSU decided to head back to their previous Division II home of the CIAA. The CIAA, while being Division II, is even more well-known for its experience as a family reunion. The CIAA is able to get high attendance in a NBA arena, which is something not even many mid-majors can do much less a Division II conference. And with that in mind, perhaps Winston-Salem State was better off heading home to the CIAA.
But there was still a large family presence in Winston-Salem. Each suite in the arena was represented by a different member school in the MEAC. These suites were decorated and marked for all to see the colors of their school. And even without WSSU, there were local interests. North Carolina A&T in Greensboro was there, coming from less than an hour away. The Aggies were eliminated early, but still had plenty of fans wearing their school colors for tonight's quarterfinal session. And this year there would be a new member to the MEAC family. North Carolina Central, from less than two hours away in Durham, had completed its transition to Division I. The NCCU fans were ready to see the Eagles play their first MEAC Tournament, and plenty of maroon could be found throughout the arena for this game between NCCU and Bethune-Cookman. The fans had come to see the Eagles, and this was the game that fans had come to see. While there weren't much of the way in student organizations, the NCCU alumni led the crowd in the Lawerence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum tonight.
The game started out well for the Eagles, up 8-3 three minutes in. But Bethune-Cookman began to take over afterwards. The Wildcats pulled out to a 37-22 lead two minutes before halftime before North Carolina Central was able to pull within 40-30 at halftime. It appeared that it would be a long game for Eagle fans, who were heading to be sitting alongside the A&T fans as neutral participants in their conference tournament.
But in NCCU's second postseason game ever, the Eagles were ready to make a stand. They chipped away the BCU lead to tie the game with six minutes left. Bethune-Cookman still managed a narrow lead until the Eagles took the lead with two minutes left. It seemed that the home crowd advantage was going to help NCCU to a slight upset. Bethune-Cookman could not respond, and North Carolina Central had the ball up one coming out of a timeout with just over 20 seconds left and 15 seconds left on the shot clock. NCCU looked to hold until the shot clock ran out, but Dominique Sutton immediately saw a path to the basket. Sutton had played previously at Kansas State before leaving the team and deciding to play his senior year at North Carolina Central. Sutton then went up for a thunderous #OMGdunx that made the crowd go wild.
But in the first picture, you will see a Wildcat defender slip in. What neither Sutton nor the NCCU fans realized right away was that as Sutton went up, the defender went down below him. The officials called a charge, which would give Sutton his fifth foul. And this would end up finishing Sutton's career. Now with the momentum, the Wildcats went down the court and put in a jump shot with six seconds left to take the lead back. The Eagles called timeout, but could not get a good shot off to respond and Bethune-Cookman got the 60-59 win. The North Carolina Central fans were very irate with the refs, who took off to their dressing room as soon as the buzzer sounded. All the Eagles could do was to sit in disbelief on their bench, as this was a new experience for them: it ended with a loss, as it always will once you become postseason eligible.
But a new group of Eagles will emerge next year in Durham, and hopefully there will be just as much excitement for their fans. There will be more traveling, however, with the tournament in Norfolk. This makes the conference tournaments a challenge for most fans, which are used to having the games closer by. But the MEAC has always been successful at getting their fans to the tournament for all of the related festivities that make it a family experience. There are Greek step shows and cheerleading championships to make the tournament a celebration for everybody involved in the conference. The MEAC has not been as successful as the CIAA in this regard, but each new addition to the family, whether from North Carolina Central or Savannah State, will be beneficial to the outreach of the conference.
BETHUNE-COOKMAN 60, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 59 03/08/2012
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 17-15 (10-6) -- M. Oliver 3-9 1-5 7; D. Sutton 4-10 8-11 16; E. Anyaorah 1-6 0-0 2; J. Ingram 4-9 1-3 11; R. Willis 2-5 3-4 7; J. Leemow 3-6 1-1 8; N. Chasten 2-3 0-0 6; T. O'Neal 2-3 0-0 4; E. Chapman 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 20-46 13-19 59. BETHUNE-COOKMAN 17-16 (11-5) -- A. Coleman 9-13 2-5 20; K. Dukes 3-10 1-1 9; G. Holloman 4-7 0-0 8; J. Bryant 5-17 2-2 12; S. Elliott Jr. 1-2 0-2 2; A. Breeze 3-4 0-0 6; R. Johnson 1-1 0-0 3; A. Smith 0-0 0-0 0; P. Scotland 0-0 0-0 0; M. Mack 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 5-10 60.
Three-point goals: NCC 6-16 (E. Anyaorah 0-2; R. Willis 0-1; J. Leemow 1-2; N. Chasten 2-3; E. Chapman 1-3; J. Ingram 2-5), BETH 3-11 (S. Elliott Jr. 0-1; A. Coleman 0-2; J. Bryant 0-1; K. Dukes 2-6; R. Johnson 1-1); Rebounds: NCC 28 (D. Sutton 10), BETH 28 (J. Bryant 10); Assists: NCC 10 (E. Chapman 4), BETH 10 (K. Dukes 3); Total Fouls -- NCC 15, BETH 20; Fouled Out: NCC-D. Sutton; BETH-None.