The MEAC leaves Raleigh in style

By L.A. Batchelor
Updated: March 17, 2008

2008 MEAC

RALEIGH — The 38th Mid Eastern Atlantic Conference Tournament was one of the best in quite some time. That’s the way it should be as they leave the city of Raleigh that didn’t want to host the tournament anymore.

Why? Well that’s a question for another article, nevertheless The MEAC Tournament final games for both the men and women proved to be special and dramatic.

Coming into the women’s final, there were many sub-plots between the two gladiators: A&T head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs was trying to become the first coach to lead three different black colleges to the NCAA Tournament

While The Lady Eagles of Coppin State looked to win the MEAC Tournament this year after losing in the finals last season against Morgan State.

It was quite a game. The Lady Aggies were the No. 1 seed and regular season champions while Coppin State was the No. 2 seed and last year’s regular season champs.

It was the battle between the young ladies of A&T, which is only losing one senior this season versus the Lady Eagles, who have won three of the past four regular season and tournament titles.

In the first half, A&T took an early lead by playing solid defense and forcing CSU to turn the ball over. The Lady Aggies forced 18 turnovers and pressed the Lady Eagles almost the entire first half.

Surprisingly, the Lady Eagles kept the game close and battled through the pressure defense even though they only had nine players available for the game. The much younger, faster and deeper A&T team relied heavy on there talented players Brittany Taylor-James and Ta’Wuana Cook especially since Amber Bland, who scored 17 to lead the team in the semi-final game was struggling offensively.

After a few lead changes, the Lady Aggies finished the have strong and took a 32-25 lead into halftime. There were 10 ties in the game and seven lead changes, with the biggest lead being nine by A&T to start the second half.

The second have proved to be quite different, The Lady Eagles handled the full court pressure much better and only committed 12 turnovers while getting some easy layups and shots in the process. Then Coppin State started to take control of the game.

The Lady Eagles went on a 27-15 run during a 9:07 period that gave them their first lead at 52-49. Rashida Suber, who made the winning shot, scored 13 of her game high 19 in the second half and proved to be too much for the Lady Aggies to stop.

The game continued to go back and forth for the last three minutes with both teams going to the free throw line and making free throws, but in the end, it was the big shot from Suber that turned out to be the difference in the game.

Suber dribbled three quarters of the length of the court through defenders and scored on an underhand scoop shot with 3.8 seconds remaining and the Lady Aggies called timeout.

After the timeout, the Lady Aggies got the ball and put up a desperation shot just past the half court line that was unsuccessful and Coppin State was the winner of the 2008 MEAC Tournament 72-70.

The Lady Eagles showed a lot of endurance in dealing with the press from the Lady Aggies with only nine players available for the game. “Our game plan was to tire them out with our rotation,” explained NC A&T head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs, who was named the MEAC Coach of the Year after leading her team to a school record number of victories. “It was to our advantage to press them because they didn’t have the number of players that we had.”

The pressure in the end proved to be not much of an advantage especially in the second half. The Aggies felt one of the keys late in the game was when Lamona Smalley fouled out.

It was a big blow to the Lady Aggies trying to win the Championship game. Losing Lamona was big for us,” said Coach Cage-Bibbs. “She played a terrific game. She is very tough and they had trouble matching up with her, so not having her in the game at the end was tough.”

Suber, who was named to the all-tournament team, led all scorers with 19, Anders with 18, Oakley with 14, 7 rebounds and 9 assists and Whitney Cunningham, who turned in the best game of her career with 15 points, 16 rebounds.

The Lady Eagles win there third title in four years while the Lady Aggies will try again next season with a lot of returning players to make another run.

On the men’s side

Tywain McKee made the shot of his life with just seconds remaining to give CSU a 62-60 win over Morgan State in the men’s final. Unlike the women, the Eagle men had a much tougher road to get to the final game as a No. 7 seed. They had to earn its way to the final.

After getting by Howard in the first round, the Eagles had to knock off the No. 3 (Norfolk State), No. 2 (Hampton) and No. 1 (Morgan State) seeds to win the title.

Like the women’s final, this was a tight game between the two neighbors from Maryland with 12 lead changes, eight ties and the largest margin for either team was seven.

The Eagles fell behind on several occasions but the Bears could not get the “knockout” punch they needed to put the Eagles away especially in the first half leading only 30-28 at the half. It would prove costly.

After a tight first half, the Eagles took and early second have lead and maintained the lead for the first five minutes of the second half. The Bears used there solid team defense and rebounding (outrebounding CSU 36-22 for the game) to take a six point lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the game.

But thanks to the stellar play of McKee, the Eagles would not quit and were determined to mimic the Lady Eagles who won the MEAC women’s title earlier.

McKee, who scored a school tournament record 33 points, hit on 12 of 20 from the field including 6 of 8 from three-point range to answer every Morgan State challenge and with the game on the line, knocked down a five foot jump shot with a defender in his face with three seconds remaining which proved to be the margin of victory for the Eagles 62-60.

With the game on the line McKee wanted the ball and didn’t feel any pressure and his coach had confidence in any of his players that would take the shot. “I was just in a zone and I knew that I had to take over,” said McKee. “I knew I had to somehow get us a basket because I did not want to let my teammates down.”

“I was contemplating on who to give the ball to, but I have a winner here with great determination,” said CSU head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell. “It didn’t't even matter. He took it and I thought he actually got fouled.”

With the win, the Eagles will play Mount St. Mary’s in the play-in game this Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio for the right to face top seeded North Carolina in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. CSU is the first team ever to make it to the NCAA Tournament with 20 losses. The game can be seen on ESPN.

The Morgan State men’s basketball team will be the eighth seed in the 71st annual National Invitation Tournament. The Bears will face top-seed and host Virginia Tech on Wednesday at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised live on ESPN Classic.

It was a tough loss for Morgan State but not surprising to there coach. “It doesn’t hurt that we lost to our cross town rival; we beat them twice this year and it is hard to beat a team three times,” said Morgan State head coach, Todd Bozeman, the MEAC Coach of the Year, who led the Bears to their first 20-win season in three decades. “I tip my hat to them.”

Congratulations to Coppin State both men and women basketball teams for winning the 2008 MEAC Tournament this season. Congratulations should also go out to Morgan State and A&T, the regular season Champions for the men and women respectively in the conference.

I also congratulate Dr. Thomas, Commissioner of the Conference and his staff for putting together a memorable Conference Tournament for the fans, alumni, supporters and the media. The loss of the MEAC Tournament in Raleigh is another city’s gain for years to come.