The NC Central basketball team scored an emotional victory Monday night by beating Missouri 62-52 in Columbia. Emotional, not because it was a signature road win against a Power 5 opponent that will undoubtedly strengthen the Eagles’ resume come postseason time. But rather, because of the meaning it had for coach LeVelle Moton and his players. As Moton somberly explained afterward, his team played the game in honor of school’s late chancellor Debra Saunders-White, who lost her battle with kidney cancer at the age of 59 two days earlier. “Our kids have been playing with a heavy heart all week,” Moton said. “They were really close to our chancellor as well as well as myself and it’s been tough.” NC Central (4-2) held Missouri to just 17.1 percent shooting in the first half and never trailed in the game. Patrick Cole led the way with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Pablo Rivas added 16 points in the victory. The veteran Eagles, who start five graduate students, got a major break when the Tigers’ best player, Terrence Phillips got into early foul trouble and was limited to just 21 minutes. Moton joked that Saunders-White might have had a hand in the victory by helping Phillips commit his fifth foul with 2:34 still to play. “I think that was our chancellor who threw and elbow in his back a little bit and made him foul,” the coach said. The Eagles, who played at Northern Kentucky on Saturday, have not been back on campus since Saunders-White’s death. Moton said news of her passing her his players hard. “She was the best chancellor on the planet, the best person on the planet, really a strong supporter of our basketball team, probably our biggest cheerleader,” the coach said. “To lose her, that’s tough to swallow. As a leader, she and I were close. “She was a fighter and I knew she would want us to fight for her and we just tried to pay homage and honor this game for her.” Central will return home on Thursday for a game against Southern Wesleyan.
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