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.
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