North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said before Chancellor Debra Saunders-White died, she had one request of the basketball coach.
To win a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men’s championship.
The Eagles (25-8) did that, and now they will head to the NCAA Tournament as a 16 seed to play UC Davis (22-12) in one of the first four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The winner? A date with No. 1 seed Kansas in the Midwest Region.
Saunders-White, the school’s chancellor for three years, died in November from cancer.
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“She’d be hugging me right now, saying, ‘Let’s go to the Final Four. Next is a Final Four’ ” Moton said. “So it ain’t stopping with her. She was a winner. She was a champion, and she had the heart of a lion.”
This is North Carolina Central’s second NCAA Tournament appearance since moving to Division I in 2011.
After 28 wins in 2014, the Eagles earned a No. 14 seed and played No. 3 Iowa State.
The Eagles lost that game, but their play-in game against UC Davis on Wednesday gives them a good chance for their first NCAA Tournament win.
Moton said he didn’t know much about UC Davis, as the Aggies.
“They probably don’t know a bunch about us as well,” Moton said. “We’ll pull an all-nighter and study and put a game plan together for a really good basketball team.”
UC Davis has about 36,000 students. The Aggies are members of the Big West Conference who moved to Division I in 2007.
The Aggies finished second in the Big West in the regular season. They had no wins against teams in the top 100 in RPI rating and were 3-4 against teams in the top 150. The Aggies’ best win came against Santa Clara, which finished 17-16. Their worst loss came against UC Riverside, which finished 7-21.
The Aggies have three scorers who average 10 or more points a game. Their leading scorer is Brynton Lemar, a 6-foot-4 ,195-pound guard, who averages 16.1 points per game.
By comparison, the Eagles’ best win came against Northern Kentucky, a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But their worst loss, which happened in the last regular-season game, came against North Carolina A&T, which was ranked the worst team in the country. North Carolina A&T had no Division I wins all season.
The Eagles’ leading scorer is Pat Cole, a 6-5, 210-pound guard who averages 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Cole, a senior, was named the MEAC Player of the Year. Senior guard Dajuan Graf is second on the team in scoring, with 14.3 points per game and 5.2 assists.
Cole said the Eagles won’t be afraid of any team they play, whether its UC Davis or Kansas.
“It’s one game at a time now,” Cole said. “You win or you go home. And around this time, nobody wants to go home. No one wants to stop playing basketball. Basketball is our life so, we going to go out here and look to get a couple of wins and a couple of upsets.”