January 31, 2024 

HBCU Notebook: North Carolina Central is scoring and soaring

The latest HBCU notebook catches readers up on North Carolina Central's success, Jackson State's perfect January, and other updates.

North Carolina Central has been fun to watch this season under interim head coach Terrence Baxter. The Eagles play an up-tempo style which emphasizes brisk ball movement, feeding the hot hand, and relentlessly attacking.

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“We play fast and that’s the uniqueness of our system,” Baxter said. “Energy is our habit. We make sure the players take their vitamin E every day, which is energy, effort, and efficiency. As a program, we emphasize four things: talking, defense, rebounding, and sprinting.”

North Carolina Central has won three of its last four games after beating Delaware State, 64-58, on the road on Monday. The victory help NCCU finish a 2-1 road trip. The Eagles are 9-10 overall and 3-2 in the MEAC. More importantly, NCCU is 5-1 at home and it hosts Baltimore schools Coppin State (Saturday, Feb. 3) and Morgan State (Monday, Feb. 5) in key contests.

NCCU leads the MEAC in scoring offense (68.4). The Eagles have scored 100 points twice against a pair of non-Division I opponents, including 110 against North Carolina Wesleyan, which started its recent winning roll. North Carolina Central is also second in the MEAC in field goal percentage (39.0), third in 3-point percentage (30.0), and fourth in opponent field goal percentage defense (39.1).

Freshman Kyla Bryant, a two-time MEAC Rookie of the Week, is third in the MEAC in scoring at 13.4 points per game | Photo Kevin L. Dorsey, courtesy of North Carolina Central Athletics Communications

Numerous Eagles have stepped up throughout the season. Although it couldn’t be confirmed, NCCU has to be one of the rare Division I programs to have three players ranked among the top five among the conference scoring leaders.

“I am used to seeing something like this,” Baxter said. “It’s our system. I played it as a student-athlete at Pfeiffer and it’s a reason why I am a Hall of Famer there. With our team, you can’t key on one person because when you do, it opens it up for others. We play fast, share the ball, and love each other.”

Two-time MEAC Rookie of the Week Kyla Bryant, a 5’7 freshman guard, is third averaging 13.8 points per contest. Morgan Callahan, a 6’1 redshirt junior forward, is fourth averaging 12.4 points per outing and 5’8 redshirt senior guard Kimeira Burks is fifth in scoring at 12.2 points per game.

Callahan, who has six of her eight career double-doubles this season, is second in the conference in rebounding (8.7) and seventh in field goal percentage. She’s also been named MEAC Defensive Player of the Week twice.

Yet, there’s more depth for the Eagles, who are driving opponents crazy.

In its 75-61 win over South Carolina State, 6’1 redshirt junior forward Aniya Finger scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds while 5’10 redshirt senior guard Kimia Carter added seven points. Freshman Jada Tiggett, a 6’2 guard/forward, is making her presence felt as she leads the MEAC in blocked shots (2.1 per game) and is fourth in field goal percentage (45.2). Tippy Robertson, who played her first three years at Stetson, is second in the conference in assists (3.8). The 5’4 redshirt senior guard has five games this season with at least five assists.

In Monday’s 64-58 road win over Delaware State, 5’6 junior guard Janiah Jones made five 3-pointers, finishing with a game-high 19 points and the North Carolina Central University defense held Delaware State to under 20 percent shooting from the field in the second half.

The Eagles are also a selfless bunch as demonstrated by Burks, who missed a few games recently, and upon her return offered to continue coming off the bench because Jones has been playing well. Meanwhile, Baxter has enjoyed himself and has the Eagles in perfect position to continue moving up the MEAC standings.

Redshirt senior guard Kimeira Burks is fifth in the MEAC in scoring at 12.2 points per game | Photo Kevin L. Dorsey, courtesy of North Carolina Central Athletics

Along with its daily dose of vitamin E, something else charges up the Eagles.

“They make me dance in the huddles because the players tell me it loosens them up,” Baxter said. “We’re looking forward to this weekend and are excited about the challenge of playing Coppin State and Morgan State. Losing at home to Norfolk State changed us for the better. We believe we can compete with anybody in our conference.”

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Howard Finding Its Groove

Despite seeing its three-game winning streak end at Coppin State on Monday night with a 63-58 setback, the Bison are the only MEAC team to beat Norfolk State in conference. Howard is one of three teams with a 3-2 conference record in the congested standings. The top five teams are separated by one game. Coppin State and Norfolk State lead the MEAC with 4-1 records.

Since dropping its opening MEAC game to North Carolina Central, Howard knocked off South Carolina State, Morgan State, and Norfolk State. Fueling the triumph over Norfolk State was 5’9 redshirt freshman guard Tyana Walker, who has been on fire lately for Howard. She has scored in double figures in all five of Howard’s conference contests.

Walker, who is averaging 11.1 points per game, scored a season-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the win over Norfolk State. The MEAC’s ninth-ranked scorer made six 3-pointers against the Spartans. Walker leads Howard with 33 3-pointers. This was the first meeting between Howard and Norfolk State since the MEAC Tournament championship game last March.

Making Howard’s win over Norfolk State more impressive is the Bison played without leading scorer Iyanna Warren, a turbo-charged 5’3 redshirt senior guard who is sixth in the MEAC in scoring at 12.2 points per game. She’s scored in double figures in eight of Howard’s last nine games. Warren scored a season-high 26 points in the loss to North Carolina Central.

Kaiya Creek, a 5’10 senior forward, has stepped up for the Bison. She had 15 points in the win over Norfolk State and tallied a season best 22 points in the setback to Coppin State.

Howard hosts Maryland Eastern Shore Saturday in a key game. The Bison are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a program.

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Norfolk State Excellent At Echols

Nothing like a little home cooking to get Norfolk State going again. After dropping a 73-60 decision to Howard on Jan. 20, the Spartans have won three straight games – all in the friendly confines of Echols Hall. Norfolk State is 5-0 at home this season. After blasting Division III Mary Washington, 99-43, the Spartans beat Baltimore squads Coppin State and Morgan State to regain their top spot in the MEAC.

Norfolk State rallied from a six-point second half deficit to beat Coppin State, 61-53 on Jan. 27. It was a first-place showdown as the Eagles entered the game unbeaten in conference play. The reigning MEAC tournament championship displayed their resilience and grit to meet the moment. The Spartans outscored Coppin State, 39-27, in the second half.

Diamond Johnson, a 5’5 junior guard, led the Spartans with 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting, finishing 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. The North Carolina State transfer leads Norfolk State in scoring (20.4 points per game). She hasn’t played enough games to be eligible for the MEAC scoring leaders. Johnson has scored in double figures in all 10 games she’s played for Norfolk State.

Kierra Wheeler, a 6’1 junior forward, finished with a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds). Wheeler leads the MEAC in scoring (17.6 points per game), rebounding (10.0) and field goal percentage (54.0). She’s also second in blocked shots (1.4). Wheeler has recorded at least one blocked shot in 10 straight games. She had six blocked shots against Mary Washington.

Niya Fields, a 5’8 junior guard, is leading the MEAC in assists per game (4.2) and is second in steals (2.5). Da’naijah Williams, a 5’8 junior guard, has scored in double figures in two of Norfolk State’s last three games. She had 10 points against Mary Washington and 12 points against Morgan State.

The Spartans, who are 14-5 overall and 4-1 in the MEAC, finish a four-game homestand by hosting Delaware State on Saturday. Following that game, Norfolk State takes its shortest MEAC road trip when they go across the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel as part of its 117-mile journey to visit Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday.

Jackson State guard Ti'lan Boler passes the ball in the open court.
SWAC Preseason Player of the Year Ti’lan Boler of Jackson State has helped the Tigers enjoy a perfect January. (Photo credit: Charles A. Smith/Jackson State University Communications)

Jackson State Enjoys Perfect January

Jackson State enjoyed a January to remember. The Tigers went unbeaten through the month, winning all seven SWAC contests by an average of 23.7 points per game. Jackson State’s seven-game winning streak has raised its overall record to 12-6. This follows a December in which Jackson State went winless, dropping all five games to Power Five opponents.   

Looking every bit like the SWAC preseason favorites, everybody contributed something special for the Tigers during January. In four of its seven games, Jackson State had at least four players reach double digits. The Tigers have been led in scoring by somebody different in its last four games: Prairie View A&M (6’1 senior guard Ti’Ian Boler), Texas Southern (6’1 graduate guard Miya Crump), Bethune-Cookman (6’0 redshirt senior guard Andriana Avent), and Florida A&M (6’6 graduate forward Angel Jackson).

Jackson, who leads the SWAC in blocked shots, has been a terror on both ends of the floor. She leads Jackson State in rebounding (6.3) and is fourth in scoring (9.3). Jackson packaged 17 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocked shots in a win over Alabama A&M. She also blocked six shots against Alabama State. The director of the Tigers show has been 5’8 graduate guard Keshaun Luckett, who is third in the SWAC in assists per game (3.9).

Avent has energized the Tigers by scoring in double figures in eight straight contests. She leads a strong bench brigade for Jackson State. Avent scored 19 points in 19 minutes against Bethune-Cookman. In addition to leading Jackson State in scoring with a 12.1 point per game scoring average, Avent has 20 3-pointers, which is tops on the team. She’s played in nine games for the Tigers.

Jackson State’s bench combined 66 points in its recent Florida road sweep against Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. The Tigers trailed the Rattlers, 34-33, at intermission before outscoring them by 20 in the second half.

Crump (10.9 points per game) and Boler (10.4) are also double-digit scorers for Jackson State. The Tigers begin a key home weekend set against Grambling State on Saturday and reigning SWAC tournament champion Southern on Monday. Southern was picked second in the preseason poll behind Jackson State, which leads the SWAC by two games over Grambling State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

In addition to Jackson State, the following programs are still undefeated in their respective conferences: Albany (America East), Kansas State (Big 12), Connecticut (Big East), Middle Tennessee State (Conference USA), Princeton (Ivy), Fairfield (MAAC), Ball State (Mid-American), Southern Indiana (Ohio Valley), South Carolina (SEC), Chattanooga (SoCon), South Dakota State (Summit), Marshall (Sun Belt), and Gonzaga (West Coast). Jackson State is in great company.

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Texas Southern Turning Around

Texas Southern’s 6’4 sophomore forward/center Jaida Belton enjoyed a monster game of 24 points, 18 rebounds, and four blocks in a 61-55 victory over Alabama A&M last Saturday. Belton has been one of many reasons why the Tigers have already doubled their win total from last season. Texas Southern has four victories heading into a weekend road game against fellow Texas school Prairie View A&M.

Second year head coach Vernette Skeete is slowly building something special. Last season as Texas Southern won two games, Skeete’s first season at TSU featured one of the youngest rosters in the nation as the Tigers had seven freshmen and a pair of newcomers playing their first year of NCAA Division I basketball. Texas Southern still doesn’t have a senior on its roster.

The Tigers saw great performances from several key contributors in knocking off Grambling State and the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff in consecutive games early in January, which turned heads to everybody outside of Houston. Those two victories over a pair of programs with signature triumphs over Power Five programs showcased the Tiger potential.

In the 72-67 road win over Grambling State, 5’8 sophomore guard Taniya Lawson had 17 points while 5’8 sophomore guard Amela Thomas added 16 points. The Tigers also got 35 points from their bench in the win over Grambling State.

Five days later, Texas Southern shot 50 percent to stun UAPB, 85-80. Daeja Holmes, a 5’9 junior guard, had 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and Lawson added 20 points. Belton tallied 14 points in the win.

Lawson, who leads Texas Southern in scoring with a 11.5 point per game average, has scored in double figures in six of her last seven games. Holmes is second in scoring at 10.2 points per outing. She also grabs 5.2 rebounds per contest. Lawson and Holmes have combined to make 38 3-pointers.

Belton scores 8.1 points per game, which is third on the team. She’s second in the SWAC in blocked shots (1.7) and seventh in rebounding (6.8). Belton also leads Texas Southern with 51 assists. Jordyn Turner, a 6’2 junior forward/center, is scoring at 7.6 points per game.

Payne Leading Prairie View A&M

Graduate student Ryann Payne is bringing the heat for the Panthers especially during their current three-game winning streak, averaging 20 points per contest in wins over Alabama State, Alabama A&M, and Alcorn State. The 5’7 graduate guard is in her final collegiate season after playing two years at TCU and two more at LSU where she had a 13-point performance in the SEC Tournament against Kentucky.

Payne is making her final season one to cherish for the Panthers. She leads the team in scoring at 14.6 points per contest, which is third in the SWAC behind Florida A&M’s dynamic 5’7 senior guard Ahriahna Grizzle and UAPB’s phenomenal 6’2 graduate guard Zaay Green.

Payne is also third in field goal percentage (43.3). Payne, who has scored in double figures in eight straight games, dropped a season-best 27 points in the 65-59 win over Alabama A&M.

The Panthers also saw 5’7 graduate guard Jada Roberson score 15 points in erasing a 10-point second half deficit to beat Alabama A&M. Payne scored 17 points in a 46-43 win over Alabama State and 16 points in a 61-55 victory over Alcorn State.

North Carolina A&T Making Noise In The CAA

North Carolina A&T has won six straight games to move into a first-place tie with Stony Brook in the rebranded Coastal Athletic Association. In their second year in the CAA, the Aggies have held their own. North Carolina A&T is 12-6 overall, which includes a victory over Wake Forest.

The Aggies are off to a 6-1 conference start for the second straight season. They have won 18 of their 25 CAA contests in their history. Prior to joining the CAA, the peripatetic Aggies spent two years in the Big South after leaving the MEAC where it was a perennial power. The Aggies won four regular-season and three conference tournament titles in nine seasons under veteran head coach Tarrell Robinson. 

During their six-game winning streak, the Aggies have been dominant. A&T’s defense has been outstanding, holding opponents to an average of 52.5 points and outscoring opponents 111-82 in the fourth quarter. In addition, the Aggies have made more free throws (97) than their opponents have attempted (90) in the last six games. With an average margin of victory of 10.2 points during their winning streak, the Aggies have held teams to 31.9 percent shooting from the field and 25.2 percent shooting from 3-point range.

After dropping its conference opener to the College of Charleston, North Carolina A&T started its winning streak by beating last year’s regular season champion and preseason favorite Towson, 62-52, in overtime. The roll continued with wins over William & Mary (53-51), Hampton (67-57), Delaware (65-62), Campbell (73-51), and Elon (56-42).

Leading the way for North Carolina A&T has been 5’9 junior guard Jordyn Dorsey, who earned CAA Player of the Week recognition this past Monday. She tied her career-high with 21 points in the win over Campbell and added 14 points in the victory over Elon. She has led the Aggies in scoring during every game of their six-game winning streak and reached double figures in 15 games this season.

For the season, Dorsey is averaging 13.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. In seven conference contests, Dorsey is averaging 15.1 points, and 6.3 rebounds.

The Aggies are far from a one-woman show. North Carolina A&T’s formidable lineup includes 5’10 senior guard Maleia Bracone, who averages 11.8 points per game, and 5’11 senior guard D’Mya Tucker, who chips in 11.7 points per game. Chaniya Clark is a 6’4 redshirt sophomore center who earned CAA Player of the Week accolades earlier in the season. Clark averages 8.7 points per contest.

North Carolina A&T travels to UNC Wilmington on Friday before coming home to host Northeastern on Sunday.

Alabama A&M's Amiah Simmons is fourth in the SWAC in scoring.
Alabama A&M’s Amiah Simmons recently scored her 1,000th career point | Photo by Alexis Blue, courtesy of Alabama A&M Athletic Communications

HBCU Crossovers

Alabama A&M’s 6’2 junior forward Alisha Wilson grabbed 24 rebounds and 5’9 junior guard Amiah Simmons scored her 1,000th career point against Mississippi Valley State on Jan. 8 … Speaking of MVSU, it rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat Texas Southern, 70-69, for its first SWAC victory of the season … Junior Sh’Diamond McKnight, a 5’7 junior guard, leads MSVU in scoring (13.5 points per game) … Green is still going strong for UAPB as she collected a triple-double against Florida A&M (20 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds) on Jan. 20 … Laila Lawrence’s eighth double-double (22 points, 13 rebounds) of the season helped Coppin State rally past Howard, 63-58, on Jan. 29 … The MEAC’s second leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, the 6’2 junior forward has scored in double figures in five straight games for Coppin State … Morgan State’s 6’2 junior forward Laila Fair leads the Bears in scoring (9.2) and rebounding (7.4).

Conference Postseason Tournament Information

It’s never too early to make plans to attend postseason conference tournaments. It’s a shame they are all occurring at the same time. Both the MEAC and SWAC Tournaments will be held from Wednesday, March 13 through Saturday, March 16 … The MEAC Tournament will be at the legendary Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia … The Pepsi SWAC Tournament will take place at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama … The Coastal Athletic Conference Tournament will be at the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. from March 13 through Sunday, March 17.

Written by Rob Knox

Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and a member of the Lincoln (Pa.) Athletics Hall of Fame. In addition to having work published in SLAM magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, and Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by CSC with the Mary Jo Haverbeck Trailblazer Award and the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Named a HBCU Legend by SI.com, Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Communicators, formerly CoSIDA.

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