By Mark F. Gray,
Special to the AFRO
With the calendar having officially turned to March, let the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference madness begin.
Despite the dominance of Norfolk State, who went 12-2 in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed, Howard and Morgan State proved they aren’t walkovers heading into this week’s MEAC Basketball Tournament in Norfolk, Va. The Howard Bison are seeded No. 2 behind the Norfolk State Spartans after finishing 16-12 (9-5 MEAC), which included sweeps of No. 3 North Carolina Central and No. 4 Morgan St. during the regular season.
The Morgan State Bears earned their top four seed through a tiebreaker formula that gave them a benefit from playing one fewer game than No. 5 South Carolina State. South Carolina State finished 7-7 in conference and Morgan finished 7-6. However, the difference between playing 13 versus 14 MEAC games led to the Bears finishing with a .538 win percentage and the Bulldogs finished at .500. The small points difference only signifies Morgan will be the designated “home” team when they meet in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 6pm at The Scope Arena.
University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) earned the No. 6 seed despite tying with Coppin State, who finished 6-8 inside the conference. UMES claimed the No. 6 seed via head-to-head tiebreaker, leaving Coppin as the No. 7 seed.
Howard has a dangerous quarterfinal opponent from Baltimore’s West side. Coppin State was enigmatic during their inconsistent regular season but gave the Bison their last loss at Burr Gym less than 48 hours following the win over Morgan in the HBCU Classic. They will meet Wednesday night at 8pm in the tournament opener for both schools. HU’s season ended with an 83-61 loss to Norfolk St. on the road at Echols Hall.
However, the Bison finished with four players earning all-MEAC honors led by senior Kyle Foster, who was named to the first team. During his senior year, Foster was named MEAC Player of the Week three times. He was one of the nation’s top three point shooters by making over 46-percent of his long range shots. On Feb. 19, Foster joined the exclusive 1,000-point club in the win over Morgan State at the inaugural NBA HBCU Classic during the All-Star Weekend showcase.
Redshirt sophomore Steve Settle III earned second team honors along with graduate student Randall Brumant. Settle III started all 28 games and finished fourth in MEAC scoring averaging 13.8 ppg while scoring double figures in scoring 20 times.
“Steve’s ability to be consistent has been a big help,” said Howard coach Kenny Blakeney. He’s gotten to the free throw line at lot and that has helped us.”
Brumant was the defensive presence in the lane and was a force on the boards. He scored a season-high 22 points against Morgan State on Jan. 22 in Baltimore.
Freshman guard Elijah Hawkins was named Rookie of the Year following a season where he averaged 13.0 points, 5.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Hawkins was named MEAC Rookie of the Week nine times this season and currently led the conference in assists and ranked third in steals.
“I think Elijah is the best point guard in the conference,” said Blakeney. “We have guys that are potent weapons. They can’t be as potent.”
Coppin State Redshirt freshman Nendah Tarke was named to the first team and All-Defensive Team while Greg Spurlock was named to the All-Rookie Team. Tarke averaged 15.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists while averaging 3.1 steals in MEAC games. He finished with 22 double/doubles in the regular season. Spurlock averaged 2.3 points per game, 1.5 rebounds, and joined Hawkins on the conference’s all rookie team.
Morgan State’s guard De’Torrion Ware was a second team all-MEAC selection following the regular season where he averaged just under 11 points per game.
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