NORFOLK, Va. – Poor free throw shooting late in regulation nearly doomed the No. 2 seed Norfolk State men’s basketball team on Wednesday night in the quarterfinal round of the MEAC tournament. But a year after its big comeback fell short against South Carolina State, the Spartans made sure to write their own history this time around.
Senior Jonathan Wade sank two free throws late in the second half to force overtime, and the Spartans went on to defeat No. 7 seed South Carolina State 93-88 in a wild affair at Scope Arena.
Wade provided the calming influence at the line that the Spartans sorely needed. S.C. State had just completed a 14-0 run that erased what had been a 12-point NSU lead with 2:09 left and put the Bulldogs up by two. Wade made both from the line with 24.7 seconds left, tying the score at 85-85, after the Spartans had missed seven of their previous nine.
A 3-pointer from S.C. State’s Eric Eaves with time running down in regulation was off the mark, sending the squads to overtime. There, Eaves gave the Bulldogs a three-point lead with a trey a minute and a half into the overtime session.
But Wade came to the rescue once again. After NSU tied it up on free throws, his backdoor-cut layup off a pass from junior Jordan Butler with 1:38 to go put the Spartans ahead, 90-88. The Bulldogs had a chance after Norfolk State was called for a shot clock violation with 46.9 seconds to go, but NSU corralled the rebound off a Bulldog miss and found sophomore Alex Long for the fastbreak dunk and the final nail in the coffin.
Norfolk State held the Bulldogs to 1-of-11 shooting in the extra session after they had just made 55 percent overall in the second half, including 6-of-11 from deep. Their season ended with an 11-20 overall record.
The victory improved NSU’s mark to 16-15 and sent the Spartans into the semifinal round on Friday at 8 p.m. Norfolk State will face the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup between No. 3 seed Morgan State and No. 11 seed Howard.
Wade finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds and a career-best seven assists.
The victory bore eerie similarities to last year’s semifinal matchup between the same two teams. Then, NSU fell behind by 21 in the second half before taking a late lead and nearly pulling off the comeback win. A year later, the Bulldogs found themselves in a 15-point second-half hole and trailed by double digits most of the second period. Like the Spartans the year before, the Bulldogs also gained a last-minute advantage but could not hold on.
Aside from Wade, junior Zaynah Robinson scored 20 points with a career-high eight rebounds and seven assists. He made 3-of-5 from deep, as did junior Kyle Williams, to help the Spartans finish 7-of-15 from long range for the game and 32-of-57 overall (56.1 percent).
Despite its struggles late, NSU still made 22-of-35 from the foul line, 19 more attempts than S.C. State.
Norfolk State shot 62 percent in the first half alone. The Spartans scored nine of the first 11 points of the game, and they quickly built a 16-7 lead as Long had seven points within the first five minutes of the game. After treys from senior Kerwin Okoro and Robinson, Williams took over from there. He hit three straight 3-pointers, the last one off the glass, as NSU eventually stretched the lead to double digits with less than eight minutes in the first half.
Junior Bryan Gellineau had a couple of buckets on the break, and Wade completed a 3-point play with 5:00 left in the half to put the Spartans ahead by 15, 41-26, tied for their largest lead of the game. Late in the period, Edward Stephens twice sank late shot-clock treys from beyond the arc for S.C. State to keep it an 11-point game at the break, 47-36.
The second half started off slower than the first, although Robinson was able to put the Spartans back ahead by 15 at the 15:50 mark with a 3-pointer from the right wing. After the Bulldogs forced a turnover at the top of the key, Tashombe Riley went in for the slam to cut the deficit to eight at the 13:01 mark. In fact, it marked the first time NSU’s lead fell below 10 points in 15 minutes of game action.
Robinson dropped one in from the middle of the paint 30 seconds later to get the advantage back to 10. He and Wade kept the lead in double digits, and Dan Robinson got in on the action with a big putback slam off a Spartan miss at the midway point of the second period.
Late in the contest, Greg Mortimer came alive for the Bulldogs. He completed a 3-point play, and Eaves sank a trey with just 5:37 to play to make it an eight-point game, 76-68. The Spartans again pushed it right back to double digits, but Mortimer scored the first eight points of that 14-0 run to nearly lead his Bulldog team to the upset win.
He finished with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, while Eaves tallied 24 points on 8-of-16 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from deep, with seven assists. Riley totaled 14 points (7-of-14 shooting) and nine boards.
Altogether, the Bulldogs made 33-of-74 (44.6 percent), including 11-of-27 from deep. Stephens made 5-of-10 from long range and scored 17 points overall.
NSU outscored S.C. State 20-9 in fastbreak points. Both Long and Williams each scored 13 points.
Courtesy: NSU Athletics