DURHAM — N.C. Central had a chance, trailing by six with 1:54 left against Eastern Kentucky, but more balls bounced the Colonels way as they pulled out a 63-57 win Tuesday night at NCCU’s McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.
NCCU’s 22 turnovers made the biggest difference.
“Self-mutilation,” NCCU’s Ray Willis said. “We got ourselves in a hole, and we kept digging.”
“We can’t beat a high school basketball team throwing it away 22 times,” NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said.
The Eagles kept trying to make spectacular plays instead of simply making the plays that were there, Moton said.
Eastern Kentucky (8-0) had something to do with NCCU’s inability to take care of the basketball.
“We’re trying to deny every single pass on the court, and when we have won convincingly at home, it’s been because our defense has been very aggressive,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “We’re one of the 20 best teams in the country as far as turning the other team over.”
Shots weren’t consistently falling for the Eagles early on, but Willis got his team going about eight minutes into the game when he cut hard to the rim and corralled a pass from Stanton Kidd for a dunk.
NCCU bore down on defense and trimmed Eastern Kentucky’s lead from 10 points to three with 7:45 to go in the first half.
The Eagles took their first lead when backup point guard Drimir Ferguson fed a slashing Willis for a layup with 5:17 remaining in the first half.
EKU’s Jeff Johnson stole the momentum with a 3-pointer at the top of the key, setting off a scoring surge for the Colonels, who led 31-22 at halftime while shooting 50 percent from the field.
The Eagles shot 37.5 percent in the first half, but they turned the ball over 10 times, resulting in 20 EKU points.
Eastern Kentucky guard Mike DiNunno missed only one shot in the first half for 13 points while giving an earful to NCCU’s football players sitting courtside.
DiNunno finished the game with 21 points, leading all scorers.
NCCU got 18 points from Jeremy Ingram.
Willis (16 points) came out in the second half looking for his shot, tearing down the lane for another dunk that got NCCU going again.
NCCU”s Emanuel Chapman was fouled after jumping in an Eastern Kentucky passing lane for a steal. He made two free throws to pull NCCU within three with 7:19 to play.
But two 3-point daggers by EKU’s Glenn Cosey would be NCCU’s undoing, with the latter pushing the Colonels’ lead to 10 with 3:22 to play.
Eastern Kentucky cooled off some in the second half, shooting 41.7 percent from the field.
Neubauer said NCCU is the best defensive team that Eastern Kentucky has played this season, adding that the Eagles got more physical in the second half.
“Twenty-two turnovers, regardless of how well you defend, it’s just hard to throw interceptions on a basketball floor and win a basketball game,” Moton said.
NCCU (5-5) got warm in the second half and shot 52.4 percent from the field, outscoring Eastern Kentucky 35-32.
Eastern Kentucky’s unblemished record includes wins over Delaware State and Norfolk State, two schools in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
EKU 63, NCCU 57
Percentages: FG .458, FT .688. 3-Point Goals: 8-21, .381 (DiNunno 4-6, Cosey 2-6, Lewis 1-3, J. Johnson 1-4, T. Johnson 0-1, Walden 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 0. Turnovers: 10 (Stutz 2, DiNunno 2, Cosey 2, Walden 2, J. Johnson, Muff). Steals: 10 (Cosey 4, DiNunno 2, Walden 2, J. Johnson, Lewis).
Percentages: FG .444, FT .762. 3-Point Goals: 1-7, .143 (Ingram 1-6, Willis 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Ingram 2, Willis). Turnovers: 22 (Ingram 7, Chapman 6, Kidd 3, Willis 3, Ferguson 2, Copeland Jr.). Steals: 6 (Kidd 2, Ingram, Jawara, Copeland Jr., Chapman).
A—1,170. Officials—Duke Edsall, Gene Griffin, Terence Green.