GAME NOTES: Tar Heel State foes are set to meet in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament on Wednesday night, as the seventh-seeded NC A&T Aggies face off with the second-seeded North Carolina Central Eagles at Norfolk Scope Arena.
NC A&T has had its share of ups and downs this season en route to a perfectly average 16-16 overall record, but it has been playing some of its best basketball of the season in recent weeks with wins in three of its last four, including a 65-54 triumph over Florida A&M in the first round of this event on Tuesday.
Despite an outstanding season, NCCU (22-8, 15-1 MEAC) just missed out on the regular-season conference crown by finishing a game behind undefeated Norfolk State, although the two teams have not played each other yet this season and NCCU actually finished with a better overall record than NSU (21-10). The Eagles come into this tournament riding a five-game win streak, including a 68-64 victory over Hampton in the regular-season finale.
NCCU swept the season series with NC A&T, but both wins came by just four points. NC A&T still leads the all-time series, 74-67.
After a tightly-contested first half against Florida A&M in its first round matchup, NC A&T pulled away from the Rattlers after halftime and finished the game shooting 50 percent from the floor and 19-of-26 from the foul line. Lamont Middleton was quiet from the floor (2-of-4) but had a busy night from the foul line (7-of-11) on his way to a team-high 12 points, while Adrian Powell and Jean Louisme netted 11 points apiece in the victory. On the season, the Aggies aren't a very strong offensive team in putting up just 61.9 ppg, but they have found success behind an outstanding defensive attack that gives up just 61.4 ppg. Middleton and Powell both put up 12.2 ppg but neither shoots greater than 40 percent from the field. Austin Witter (6.3 ppg) isn't much for scoring but he hauls in 7.1 rpg and swats away nearly three shots per contest.
NCCU's lead over Hampton in its latest game ballooned to as many as 20 points in the second half, and even though it saw that advantage shrink down to two in the final minute it never coughed up the lead. The Eagles escaped with the win despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Stanton Kidd tallied 21 points and nine rebounds, while Jeremy Ingram and Ray Willis netted 14 and 13 points, respectively. Despite finishing in second place, NCCU is without question the most well-rounded squad in the MEAC. It scores 67.9 ppg and allows foes just 56.8 ppg for a scoring margin (+11.1), nearly 10 times as good as Norfolk State's. Ingram leads the team with 15.9 ppg and has been impressive from beyond the arc, making 61 3-pointers at a 40.9 percent clip. Kidd scores 14.5 ppg (56 percent from the field) and hauls in 6.9 rpg, while Willis rounds out the double-digit scorers with 12.2 ppg.
NC A&T's defensive game plan is sure to give NCCU fits in this matchup, just as it did during the regular season, but the Eagles are a team on a mission and will find a way to outlast the Aggies.
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