Hawks open MEAC Tourney with win against N.C. A&T
No. 5 seed Eastern Shore (13-19) will now face No. 4 seed Hampton University on Thursday (March 9) at 8 p.m.
Bakari Copeland (Decatur, Georgia) led the Shore with 25 points and nine rebounds, including 16 in the first half, when he seemed to almost single-handedly will the team to keep it close heading into the half.
"We did a good job of getting the ball inside," Eastern Shore head coach Bobby Collins said. "Of course, when Bakari Copeland has the ball in his sweet spots, he is very tough to guard. He did some very good things for us today. He mixed it up by driving the ball some and he knocked down some open shots. He hit some tough shots as well. He was a man-child today."
The No. 12 seed Aggies (3-29) were held to just 33 percent shooting from the field in the second half due in part to a change to a zone by The Shore coming out of the locker room.
"My coaches did a very good job of making the suggestion of going to (a zone) defense as opposed to trying to guard them man-to-man," Collins said. "It made them stand around a little bit and take some ill-advised 3's. We were able to get the rebound (on the misses) and that was the difference in the game."
Ryan Andino (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) added 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting all from behind the 3-point arc. He also dished out three assists and grabbed a rebound.
"It was a great team effort," Collins said. "We did a very good job of getting the ball inside out. I know (people) may say we shot a lot of 3's. We shot 21 3's, but when Ryan Andino is shooting the ball the way he was shooting it early it opens it up for Bakari Copeland and Isaac Taylor."
Andino's biggest moments in the game started with 15:29 left in the game when he pushed the Hawks' lead to five points, 47-42. After the two teams traded a pair of baskets each, Andino made another 3-pointer with 13:52 remaining to push the lead to nine and then drifted to the corner on a steal by Derrico Peck (Atlanta, Georgia) and drilled another to push The Shore out in front 57-45 and draw an Aggies timeout.
"When Dino is knocking down shots it opens it up for me and the big men inside," Copeland said. "It opens if up for everybody because they don't know who to guard. When Dino gets hot like that, we just know to get him the ball and go rebound because he can do some special things."
Freshman Tyler Jones (Atlantic City, New Jersey) scored 12 off the bench, blocked two shots and grabbed three rebounds in just 15 minutes of action.
"He kind of stretched the floor for us, allowed our point guards to get downhill and make some plays."
The Hawks were outrebounded 37-31, but forced 10 A&T turnovers, while committing just five. The Hawks bench outscored the Aggies' reserves 37-25 and The Shore also had a 19-7 advantage in second-chance points.
North Carolina A&T guard Sam Hunt entered the game averaging a team high 12 points per game and was held to just four points in 29 minutes. Eliel Gonzalez, who had averaged 22 points in two games against the Hawks this season, was held to 13 on 4-of-9 shooting.
"We shut Sam Hunt down and he plays a major role in what they do," Collins said. "Also, we kind of contained Gonzalez and kept him from going off. It was a great team effort defensively."
The Hawks victory broke a streak of five straight opening game losses in the MEAC Tournament. Until Monday, the last victory came, 87-85, against Florida A&M on March 8, 2011, at Joel Coliseum in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
They now get to look ahead to a second game in Norfolk.
"I've been doing this for over 20 years," Collins said. "I know how important that first game is. It's very big for us and I told our guys not to be satisfied, but be happy about the win and move on to the next game. This time of year, is really about surviving and advancing. We'll get better next year."
Games can be heard locally on Fox Sports Radio 960 AM WTGM or on www.EasternShoreHawks.com. Will DeBoer will have the call Thursday from The Scope on The Shore Sports Network.
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