DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) North Carolina Central University celebrated its return to the NCAA Tournament after three years on Sunday.
However, the school was missing one large part that helped get the team there.
It was a party as NCCU students, alumni and faculty welcomed back the men's basketball team from Virginia where they won the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference Championship and clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"we were sitting here three years ago and it feels so great to experience it again," said NCCU grad Turquoise Parker.
For some fans it was a long weekend supporting their team.
"We actually just got back from the tournament. We went to Virginia," said Courtney Shiver.
Shiver drove about 360 miles round trip to root for her team, but she says she wasn't' the only one.
"We were surrounded by alumni, and current students, and so many Eagles fans," she said.
For grads and current students, NCCU is family. And as the team found out they would be heading to Ohio for their first game in the tournament, there was one member of the NCC family who was not present.
"We dedicated that to her," said Head Coach Levelle Moton.
In late November, Central's chancellor, Debra Saunders-White, died after battling cancer.
Head coach Levelle Moton says Saunders-White was a huge supporter of the team and fought for upgrades for his players. Moton said before she passed away, Saunders-White told him to win a championship.
He told his team that for the first time Sunday.
He said it was a burden he didn't want his team to have weighing on their shoulders while they played, one he said he wished wasn't on his, but this past week they kept that promise and are now the 2017 MEAC Conference Champions.
He said Saunders-White would want more.
"She would be hugging me right now, saying, 'Let's go to the Final Four,'" Moton said. "Next is the Final Four. She was a winner. She was a champion. She had the heart of a lion."
The NCCU family has faith in their coach and team getting them there.
Central plays this Wednesday against University of California, Davis in Dayton, Ohio in the play-in round. If they win, they'll face-off against number one ranked Kansas in the Midwest Region.
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