NORFOLK, Va. — As a native of Boston and longtime Red Sox fan, LeVelle Moton grew up hearing about how his baseball team was cursed.
Upon becoming North Carolina Central’s head coach five years ago, Moton began hearing it again. The Eagles put an end to such talk Saturday, though.
Eagles guard Jeremy Ingram scored 29 points to lead the top-seeded Eagles past No. 3 Morgan State 71-62 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday night at the Scope Arena.
It was NCC’s first postseason tournament title in 64 years.
“Growing up they used to talk about the Curse of the Bambino, and suddenly I was hearing those same type stories associated with North Carolina Central,” Moton said. “How long has it been, 64 years? People were like, ‘are you all cursed?’
“So we’re just going to embrace this moment. It hasn’t really even hit me yet.”
The victory was NC Central’s 20th straight and gave the Eagles, who rejoined the MEAC in 2011, their first NCAA Tournament appearance as a Division I school.
NC Central last played in the NCAA as a Division II program out of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
“We get to go out on the dance floor just like everyone else,” Moton said. “And once you get out there, there’s no telling what will happen.
“So I don’t care who we play, because these guys are fearless. We’re going to try to have a great showing because the buck don’t stop here.”
Eagles forward Karamo Jawara broke the game’s ninth tie with 13:40 remaining when he drove from the top of the key and dunked to put Central ahead 44-42. The play came one series after Morgan State’s 7-foot-2 center, Ian Chiles, left the game after picking up his third foul.
The Bears cut a seven-point deficit to two, but a fallaway 3-pointer by Eagles guard Reggie Groves restored N.C. Central’s cushion.
The Eagles (28-5) iced the game by making 14 of 18 free throws in the final 3:47. N.C. Central made 25 of its 30 free throws in the second half.
The MEAC Player of the Year, Ingram was also named the tournament’s most outstanding player, sinking 9 of 15 shots from the field and 7 of 9 free throws.
Chiles finished with 26 points for the Bears (15-14), who lost in the title game for the second straight year and third time in four years.
“It’s tough,” Chiles said. “I’d never won anything, and this kind of fits into that. We fought every time, but today, the better team won.”
The Bears established Chiles early as the redshirt senior scored the game’s first two baskets. But then Ingram began showing why he was named MEAC Player of the Year.
Ingram scored 11 of the Eagles’ first 19 points with an assortment of drives and jumpers, then added two three-point plays to give NC Central a 31-26 lead with 1:21 remaining.
A deep 3-pointer by Morgan State guard Blake Bozeman got the Bears within two, and forward Thair Heath’s runner at the buzzer sent the teams into halftime tied at 31.
Ingram finished with 17 first-half points.
Chiles’ 10 points led Morgan State. But Bears guard Justin Black, who scored 29 and 30 points in Morgan State’s previous two tournament games, went scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting from the field and spent nearly 11 minutes on the bench after picking up two fouls.
“If you’d have told me that before, I wouldn’t have thought we’d be still in the game,” Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said. “I was looking forward to him getting in his groove in the second half, but it didn’t happen. Give them credit; they played him tough.”
Black finished with just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
NOTES: North Carolina Central, which transitioned from Division II and did not become eligible for the MEAC tournament until 2012, was making its first appearance in the conference title game. The Eagles’ last tournament title was in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1950. … Morgan State was playing in its sixth final in eight years, winning the tournament in 2009 and 2010. …The Eagles’ last loss was a 63-60 setback at Florida A&M on Jan.
Alabama fires head coach Grant
Alabama fired head basketball coach Anthony Grant on Sunday after six seasons.
The Crimson Tide struggled over the final two months of the season, finishing 18-14 and tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.
Grant, 48, won at least 20 games three times and made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. His Alabama teams went 117-85, including two NIT appearances (2011 and 2013). He came to Alabama from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he went 76-25 and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.
“This has been a very difficult decision, as I have the highest respect for Anthony as a coach, as a molder of young men, and as a person,” Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement. “Anthony is a man of impeccable character who has been an excellent representative of our program. He has made tremendous contributions to our program and we always will be grateful for his efforts. Anthony, his wife Chris, and their children have been tremendous assets to our University and our community.
“In this business we are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court and, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area.”
Kentucky routs Arkansas for SEC tourney title
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No. 1-ranked Kentucky will take a perfect 34-0 record into the NCAA Tournament this week after thrashing Arkansas 78-63 in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.
The conference tournament title is the 28th for Kentucky, meaning the Wildcats have won more than half of the 55 tournaments.
“This team has a lot of dog in it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Good, hard fought game. Arkansas is a ranked team, but we kind of did our thing.”
Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who was named tournament MVP, paced Kentucky with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. It was his first double-double since the Columbia game on Dec. 10.
Cauley-Stein was joined on the all-tournament team by twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison of Kentucky, Michael Qualls of Arkansas and K.T. Harrell of Auburn.
Andrew Harrison, a sophomore guard, scored 15 points. Twin brother Aaron Harrison had 11 points and six assists. Freshman guard Tyler Ulis added eight points and six assists.
Guard Michael Qualls topped No. 21 Arkansas (26-8) with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Forward Bobby Portis had 13 points.
“Our guys came out and scratched and clawed,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “But at the end, I thought their depth and size were hard to overcome. If a team is going to beat them, you’ve got to make shots as well as match their energy.”
The finals pitted the top two seeds in Kentucky and Arkansas, but the Wildcats wasted little time proving that winning the regular season by five games was no fluke. Kentucky roared out to an 8-0 lead within the first two minutes, forcing Anderson to call an early timeout. Point guard Andrew Harrison scored six of the eight on a pair of 3-pointers.
“If the other team is angry, mad, hateful, jealous, the physiology of that is real close to fear,” Calipari said. “When a team comes in that way, if you can just play and that thing turns into fear, you separate yourself. Joy, the love of playing, always beats angry, mean, hateful, jealous.”
Arkansas managed to score five unanswered points after the break and eventually tied the game at 10-10 on a 3-pointer by Portis. The SEC player of the year had missed 16 of his previous 17 shots in the tournament before the basket.
The game was tied 19-19 with 10:18 to play in the first half when Kentucky caught fire, scoring 16 points in 5:05 for a 35-23 lead. Aaron Harrison scored six points during the 16-4 run on a pair of 3-pointers. He also assisted on two dunks by Cauley-Stein and a basket in the paint by sophomore center Dakari Johnson. Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns accounted for the remaining four points.
All six Kentucky field goals during the run were accompanied by an assist, including three by Aaron Harrison. At the time, Kentucky was shooting 59 percent (13 of 22), including 5 of 6 on three-pointers.
Kentucky went on to expand the lead to 16 points by halftime, 41-25, meaning the Wildcats outscored Arkansas 22-6 over the final 10:18 of the first half.
Cauley-Stein led the way in the first half with eight points and eight rebounds. Aaron Harrison added eight points and six assists. Andrew Harrison scored six points.
Kentucky shots 51.9 percent in the first half, and 12 of the 14 baskets came via assists. The Wildcats were 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Arkansas, which never led, shot just 29 percent in the first half. Portis topped the Razorbacks with seven points. Arkansas had just two assists and five turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
In the second half, Arkansas managed to trim Kentucky’s lead from 16 to nine at 48-39 at the 11:55 mark. During that time, Towns picked up his fourth personal foul with 14:07 to play.
“We cut it to nine points in the second half, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” Anderson said.
From that point forward the two teams battled mostly to a draw before Kentucky pulled away late in the half.
Kentucky pushed the lead back 18 points at 6:10 thanks to an 11-2 run.
Kentucky’s largest lead of the game was 21 points, which came with 2:41 to play.
Wisconsin earns top seed after conference tournament win
CHICAGO — The Wisconsin Badgers earned a historic NCAA top seed Sunday, but their approach going forward will be strictly business as usual.
Wisconsin (31-3) beat Michigan State 80-69 in overtime in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game to complete a championship sweep and were rewarded with the first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in program history.
“I’m sure it will sink in,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “What we need right now is to get these guys back (home). We have class tomorrow, some of these guys have tests, they’ve got midterms this week. So it will be business as usual for our student-athletes.”
But players like forward Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten tournament most outstanding player, are pretty pumped up.
“It’s awesome,” Kaminsky said. “First No. 1 seed in program history. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, but we have a lot of goals and aspirations in the NCAA Tournament. So we’re going to prepare for our first game and be ready we tip the ball up.”
No. 6 ranked Wisconsin, the league’s regular-season champion, claimed the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA berth with the overtime win at the United Center and meets No. 16 Coastal Carolina (24-9) in Friday’s West Region opener in Omaha, Neb.
The overtime outcome was the first in Big Ten tournament history.
Michigan State (23-11) is also tourney bound with a No. 7 seed in the East Region. The Spartans will face Georgia, which is the 10th seed, on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.
Ryan was initially at a loss for words after the Badgers’ dramatic come-from-behind win.
“I’m speechless and that’s hard to do,” he said. “It was the fight in this group, and to do what they did when it seemed like Michigan State couldn’t do anything wrong. I just hope we have something left in us come NCAA Tournament time.”
The Badgers rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and back into contention late in the game. They then scored 11 unanswered points in overtime behind seven points form forward Nigel Hayes.
Hayes closed with a game-high 25 points and was 12-for-12 from the free throw line. Kaminsky had 19, guard Bronson Koenig finished with 18 while reserve forward Duje Dukan added 11.
Michigan State, making its third title game appearance in four years, was led by forward Branden Dawson and guard Denzel Valentine with 16 apiece while reserve guard Bryn Forbes had 10.
“I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve ever played for 32, 32 and one-half minutes or 35, 36 minutes,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “And then we made a couple of mistakes and they made a couple of great shots and that’s the way the game goes.”
Wisconsin trailed 57-46 in the second half when Koenig launched a comeback with a 3-pointer and added another with 4:19 left to give the Badgers a temporary 60-59 lead.
“We were down eleven and they thought they had it in the bag,” Koenig said. “But I kept reminding my teammates that we were never going to give up.”
Guard Lourawls Nairn’s 3-pointer then put Michigan State up 62-60 as the teams exchanged leads three times and tied four times. The last in regulation came on Koenig’s two free throws for a 69-69 deadlock.
A potential game-winning shot by Dawson rolled in and out as regulation time expired.
In the first half, Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 10-5 in the final 3:25 for a 32-31 halftime lead after a half that saw with seven lead changes and five ties. The Spartans opened a 32-28 lead after a turnover by Koenig and a rebound put back by forward Marvin Clark with 25 seconds showing. But Wisconsin narrowed the deficit to 32-31 as Kaminsky hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
It was the Badger’s fifth successful shot from beyond the arc in the half. Wisconsin ended 13-of-26 (50 percent) on 3-point shooting for the game.
NOTES: Sunday’s game was tied 13 times and had 14 lead changes. … The Badgers claimed a 68-61 win in March in the long regular season meeting behind F Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points. … The Badgers’ two previous Big Ten tournament titles came in wins over Illinois in 2004 and 2008. … Wisconsin’s 31 wins match an all-time