The first round of the MEAC kicks off Monday with a showdown between the #5 seed University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the #12 seed North Carolina A&T.
Despite a tough 12-19 record overall, solid play in conference has the Hawks in a prime position to move on further into the tournament.
This is the third time these teams have met this season after the Hawks won the previous two matchups, where they narrowly escaped on Feb. 20.
During the first game between these two programs the Hawks shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor and rode that momentum to a 99-88 victory. Ryan Andino had a coming out party shooting lights out from three (9-13) and marched to a career-high 31 points against the Aggies.
Andino is second on the team in points, leads the MEAC in three-pointers made and is shooting 38 percent from outside the arc this season. Andino and Eastern Shore will have an advantage against the Aggies, who are ranked last in the MEAC in three-point defense.
In the second round between these two teams, Eastern Shore was able to outlast the Aggies down the stretch sweeping the regular season series in 3OT. The Aggies tied the game in the final minutes of the first and second OT periods, but a run in the third overtime put the Hawks up for good.
Senior big-man Bakari Copeland showcased his offensive power notching a double-double, going for a career-high 29 points with 10 rebounds, and 17 of those points coming from the free throw line.
Copeland has been the go-to offensive threat for the Hawks this season, which garnered him All-MEAC First Team honors on Friday. Copeland ranks fifth in scoring in the MEAC 17.3 PPG and 19.4 PPG in conference play.
Even though Eastern Shore swept the regular season series, Copeland says he doesn’t want a repeat of what happened with another MEAC team last season.
“We’re not taking anybody for granted,” Copeland said. “We took Morgan State for granted last year because we beat them twice and we can’t let that happen again.”
The Hawks defeated Morgan State twice in the regular season last year before ultimately falling the MEAC Tournament 65-58.
North Carolina A&T has struggled this season dropping 22 straight games at one point. A bright spot for the Aggies was a regular season upset over North Carolina Central, their only win against a Division I opponent.
Junior guard Eliel Gonzalez has shown success in navigating the Hawk defense as he poured in 44 total points in the previous matchups.
Eastern Shore has had some problems in the first round of the tournament as they have lost in the opening round five consecutive seasons. Monday could have hopes of breaking the drought, where the winner of the game will have a date with Hampton in round two.
Monday’s contest is set to begin at 5 p.m.