An upside down MEAC Tournament concludes with the championship game on Saturday afternoon, as the seventh-seeded NC A&T Aggies take on the fifth-seeded Morgan State Bears with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
NC A&T has navigated through the tournament field starting with a 65-54 win over Florida A&M in the first round before upsetting second-seeded North Carolina Central in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, 55-42. In the semifinals, the Aggies took care of business against Delaware State, 84-78, to improve to 18-16 overall, while advancing to their first championship game appearance in 16 years.
Morgan State (17-14) has also won three games en route to its fifth championship game appearance in the past six years, taking down 12th-seeded South Carolina State (61-52), fourth-seeded Savannah State (64-61 in OT) and eight-seeded Bethune-Cookman (82-71). The Bears, who cut down the nets in this event in 2009 and 2010, are riding a season-high eight-game win streak.
Morgan State defeated NC A&T in Greensboro on Jan. 26, 55-52, although the Aggies lead the all-time series by a 48-34 count.
The Aggies saved one of their best offensive performances of the season for their semifinal-round matchup, as they shot nearly 55 percent from the field (including 10-of-19 from 3-point range) and 18-of-22 from the foul line in the six-point victory. Pacing five teammates in double figures was Adrian Powell, who scored 23 points to go with nine rebounds. Lamont Middleton netted 17 points, Jean Louisme and Jeremy Underwood poured in 12 points each, and Bruce Beckford had 10 points. NC A&T is usually much more modest on the offensive end of the court, scoring just 62.4 ppg, but the team makes up for it with a strong defense (61.3 ppg allowed). Powell (12.5 ppg) and Middleton (12.3 ppg) have been neck-and-neck for the scoring lead all year long.
The Bears opened up an eight-point lead over Bethune-Cookman in the semifinals and their advantage was never in question down the stretch en route to the 11- point victory. The team shot 56.6 percent from the field and was paced by a 17-point effort from Shaquille Duncan, who shot 7-of-8 from the field in a reserve role. Justin Black and DeWayne Jackson each had 16 points in the winning effort, while Anthony Hubbard chipped in 11 points. On the season, the Bears are one of the few teams in the MEAC that sport a positive scoring margin, as they tally 68.0 ppg while allowing 65.7 ppg. Black has been the team's leading scorer all season long, pouring in 14.4 ppg on nearly 45 percent from the field. Jackson is right on his heels with 13.5 ppg, while Hubbard brings 11.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg to the table.