PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – The University of Maryland Eastern Shore men's basketball team begins conference action against the reigning league champions, North Carolina Central, on Friday night. UMES (3-6) comes into the MEAC opener having won back-to-back games for the first time in three years.
The Hawks will try to build off consecutive victories, at Fordham on Saturday and vs. UMBC in the home opener on Tuesday night. In the UMBC game, UMES took advantage of an 18-0 run over the span of nearly ten minutes in the first half to build a comfortable lead. With a halftime margin at 23 points in their favor, the Hawks coasted to victory as UMBC bid for a comeback, but never truly threatened. For the second straight game, UMES led wire-to-wire and eventually finished off a 65-52 victory over their in-state foe. With the victory, UMES already surpassed its non-conference win total from last season.
The offense has been predicated on an inside-out approach, starting with Mike Myers down low and then opening up perimeter shots for Devin Martin and Devon Walker. This played out perfectly against UMBC as Myers scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the paint, while Martin and Walker combined for seven three-pointers made against the Retrievers. Myers leads the team in scoring (13.2 points per game) and rebounding (5.8 boards per game).
Now, UMES begins league play against the defending league champions, North Carolina Central. The Eagles finished last year at 15-1 to capture the regular season title, and then defeated Morgan State, 71-62, to win the conference tournament. With the program's first MEAC title, NCCU then appeared in the NCAA Tournament, losing to 3-seed Iowa State, 93-75, in the round of 64. The Eagles have lost just two MEAC regular season games in the past two seasons combined.
Last season, the Hawks nearly upset North Carolina Central in Princess Anne. The two teams last faced each other on February 3, 2014 at W.P. Hytche Athletic Center when NCCU escaped with a 66-62 victory. UMES actually led late 61-60 with two minutes to play, but the Eagles finished strong to spoil the upset bid by the Hawks.
North Carolina Central owns the all-time series between the schools, 19-16, including six straight wins for the Eagles. The last UMES win over NCCU came back on January 21, 2009 with a 73-58 win in Durham. Early season results have Hawks fans reason to be optimistic for improvement over last season's 4-12 campaign during MEAC play. UMES has not won its conference opener since the 2009-10 season, when they defeated Delaware State, 53-50.
This year's NCCU squad features the same high expectations that have become the norm under sixth-year head coach LeVelle Moton. The Eagles were picked to win the MEAC again as the top vote-getter in the conference preseason poll. Moton has taken NCCU from its transition period in joining Division I to now a perennial contender in the MEAC, winning 50 games in the past two seasons, including 28 victories last year, a record of a MEAC school. NCCU has rattled off 18 consecutive wins over MEAC foes, dating back to last January when the Eagles lost to Florida A&M.
The Eagles have lost four of their starters from last year's squad with only Karamo Jarawa remaining. Three senior graduated off last year's team while senior Jay Copeland will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Coach Moton's squad has reloaded with a pair of transfers, Anthony McDonald from Mississippi Valley State and Nimrod Hilliard from Lamar, making big contributions.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at W.P. Hytche Athletic Center in Princess Anne, Md. Pregame coverage will begin at 6:40 p.m. on the Hawks Radio Network powered by SFMSports.net and Fox Sports 960 AM.