N.C. Central coach gets his wish, avoids Duke in NCAA tournament after First Four loss to North Dakota State

DAYTON, OHIO - MARCH 20: Head coach LeVelle Moton of the North Carolina Central Eagles reacts during the second half against the North Dakota State Bison in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 20, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton didn't want to play Duke in the NCAA tournament. On Wednesday, he got his wish — just not how he would have liked. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

LeVelle Moton, be careful what you wish for.

Shortly after winning the MEAC tournament and earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, Moton — North Carolina Central’s head coach — had just one request for the selection committee: Anybody but Zion Williamson and Duke.

“Some coaches will say, ‘We’ll take on anyone. We’ll be ready,’” Moton said ahead of Selection Sunday. “But I don’t want any part of playing Duke. Us playing against Zion [Williamson] would be like my 6-year-old son playing against me.”

On Wednesday, he got his wish. Well, kind of.

No. 16 seed N.C. Central fell to fellow No. 16 seed North Dakota State 78-74 on Wednesday night in their First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio. The Bison will now take on No. 1 Duke in the first round of the tournament, which was awaiting the winner of their play-in game.

Moton and the Eagles —while being spared from the fate of facing the tournament’s No. 1 overall team — are done.

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That “consolation prize” of sorts, though, isn’t something Moton — or likely any other coach in the tournament — would want to embrace.

“For it to be over with, it hurts. It stings,” Moton said after the game. “That’s the harsh reality that we never wanted to embrace. But I’m extremely proud of them for the year that we had.”

Tyson Ward led the Bison with 23 points on Wednesday night, shooting 7-of-13 from the field. Vinnie Shahid added 14 points, and both Sam Griesel and Jared Samuelson added 10.

Larry McKnight Jr. and Raasean Davis each dropped 10 points to lead the Eagles. Randy Miller Jr. added 18 points, and Zacarry Douglas finished with 14 points. N.C. Central didn’t have a single point come off the bench in the loss.

The Bison — who boast a 19-15 record and fell by 22 points in their last matchup against a Power 5 school — will now have the tough task of knocking off Williamson and the Blue Devils on Friday night in the first round.

While most, if not all, around the country will pick Duke to cruise past North Dakota State, Ward said they just have to keep it simple if they want to knock off the best team in the country.

“(We have to) just do what got us here — little by little, step by step,” Ward said. “First we have to box out. They got some big guys over there. Just do what we do best. Shoot that ball, play defense and just get it together.”

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