For years, the Wildcats have struggled. Not anymore. Bethune-Cookman remains in first place after holding off a late surge by South Carolina State on Saturday for a 76-72 victory. C.J. Reed scored 20, and Garrius Holloman added 17 for the Wildcats (18-11, 12-3), who now can claim the most wins in a season since the program became an NCAA Division I member.
More importantly, Bethune has a one-and-a-half game lead over second-place Morgan State, and has clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the MEAC tournament, which starts March 9.
“I’m happy with the victory,” Bethune-Cookman coach Cliff Reed said, “but our goal isn’t to win 18 games, it’s to win a championship. If we want to play as many games as possible, we have to do better than (Saturday).”
South Carolina State (8-20, 4-11), down 13 points with 4:51 to play, rallied toward the end, but couldn’t overcome the steep deficit. Darnell Porter drained a couple of late treys, scoring 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. It wasn’t enough. Bethune-Cookman has now won five straight, and eight of its last 10.
That includes a 78-76 double-overtime victory over Hampton on Feb. 19 (which gave the Wildcats sole possession of first place in the MEAC standings), and a 66-64 win at Howard on Feb. 21. That victory over the Bison guaranteed an overall winning record for Bethune-Cookman for the third straight year; the Wildcats haven’t gone .500 or better in three straight campaigns since the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Morgan State (15-11, 10-4) then fell to Norfolk State 69-63, in a Saturday upset. The Spartans had lost two straight and five of their last six heading into that game.
Bethune-Cookman plays North Carolina Central tonight, in a game that doesn’t count in the MEAC standings. The Wildcats won this match 67-64 on Jan. 31, but don’t count out Central just yet. This provisional league member has already topped eight MEAC foes going into the final week of February. (The Eagles officially join the conference next season.)
Bethune-Cookman has just one league match left, Florida A&M on March 3, and that game will be played at home. Bethune already holds a head-to-head win over the Rattlers, as well.