Bottoms Up: MEAC’s Lower Seeds Flip The Script

Delaware State and North Carolina A&T will battle for a chance at an MEAC Championship on Friday.  (A&T photo)

For the majority of the 2013 season, North Carolina A&T, Delaware State, Morgan State and Bethune-Cookman were mediocre teams in a less-than-stellar conference. But the MEAC tournament has given these four teams new life, and they are making the most of it, turning MEAC brackets upside down and leaving “experts” scratching their heads. The foursome is responsible for sending the top four seeds of the MEAC home before the semifinals.

Bethune-Cookman (14-19, 7-9) pulled off the first big upset of the week when it upended Norfolk State. The eight-seeded Wildcats used a big game by Adrien Coleman to hand the Spartans (21-11, 16-0) their first loss to a MEAC team since last year’s regular season. Coleman scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for BCU as they stunned NSU in its backyard, gaining revenge for a 62-61 loss in Norfolk near the end of the regular season.

Bethune-Cookman will try to return to the
MEAC Championship on Saturday.

Shortly after Bethune-Cookman ushered Norfolk State off the court, North Carolina A&T (17-16, 8-8) stepped on to the Norfolk Scope with revenge on its mind. After suffering two heartbreaking losses to North Carolina Central (22-9, 15-1) during the regular season, A&T finally got over the hump. The Aggies stifled the second-seeded Eagles offensively, forcing their two best players (Jeremy Ingram and Stanton Kidd) in to bad shooting nights and coming up with a 55-42 victory.

The upsets just kept coming on Thursday. Sixth-seeded Delaware State (15-17, 8-8) faced a well-rested team in third-seeded Hampton. The Pirates were playing in their first game in over a week, and it showed as the Hornets jumped out to a 32-25 halftime lead. But Hampton (14-17, 11-5) stormed back in the second half to take a 60-58 lead with less than two minutes remaining. A quick pair of free-throws tied the game with over a minute to go before Tahj Tate connected on a three-point basket with nine seconds remaining to give DSU the 63-60 win. 

By the time Thursday’s final game got started, you had the feeling that being the higher seed was not a good thing in this tournament. Fifth-seeded Morgan State (16-14, 10-6) proved that right against fourth-seeded Savannah State (19-14, 11-5), surviving a late comeback attempt via overtime to continue the upset trend with a 64-61 win. Senior Justin Black, the lone player from Morgan’s days as MEAC King scored 20 points to set up a matchup with Bethune-Cookman.

What should we expect in the two semifinal games? Well, being that this MEAC tournament has defied all reasonable logic, maybe it’s best we don’t have any.

Morgan and Bethune will match up in the first men’s semifinal, scheduled to start at 6 pm. These two teams did not play each other in the regular season, so there’s not much to go on. It might come down to whether or not Morgan can contain Coleman. Only Kevin Dukes has been a consistent double-figure scorer other than Coleman, while Morgan has several players who are capable of having a big night. Both these teams have players who have played in championship-level atmospheres, so this one could go either way.

Friday’s nightcap will feature NC A&T against Delaware State. The only meeting between the two teams in the regular season was a 53-44 game that went DSU’s way. But the Aggies are hungry for a MEAC title, something they haven’t tasted since 1995. They also seemed to have a better grasp on how to put teams away than they did earlier in the season.

On Thursday night, I told the guys at The Batchelor Pad that a Bethune-Cookman/Delaware State matchup “would be the MEAC’s nightmare, based on geography and fan bases. A Morgan State/A&T championship game would likely play better in terms of attendance, but so far, the teams in the the tournament don’t have much regard for the conference’s preferences. Don’t expect them to start now.

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