N.C. Central played a strong second half to defeat No. 1 Norfolk State 50-47 in the MEAC title game. It was the second straight year the Eagles knocked off the top seed on their way to a third straight MEAC championship.
The Eagles outscored the Spartans 28-15 in the second half to go to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time after trailing by 10 at the break. N.C. Central was sent to the First Four in Dayton in 2017 and 2018 and was a No. 14 seed in 2014.
These teams met in the MEAC finals two years ago, but early on it looked like the first time either team had been on a basketball court in a while.
At the first media timeout the game was tied 2-2. The Spartans started the game 0-3 from the floor, the Eagles 1-4. After both teams were able to settle down at the first break, slowly but surely the offense started to come.
Norfolk State started to pressure NCCU fullcourt, which played a part in the 12 first half turnovers – compared to just 8 made field goals – for the Eagles. The Spartans took advantage, scoring six in a row to take a two-point lead, 16-14. NCCU trailed the rest of the way. After a Jibri Blount layup made it a two-point game, 24-22, the Spartans ended the half on a 6-0 run to take a 10-point lead into the locker room.
Norfolk State’s run came in a variety of ways, from a long three by Steven Whitley that made it 22-16, to a dunk by Alex Long and even a buzzer beater by Mastadi Pitt as the first half ended.
Central didn’t do themselves any favors shooting the ball, going 0-9 from three in the first half. The Spartans knocked down four of seven triples (57.1 percent) and didn’t miss a free throw.
The Eagles started the game by missing two layups on their first possession and didn’t score until Larry McKnight Jr. scored a layup at the 17:53 mark.