NORFOLK, Va., – In the final quarterfinal game of the MEAC Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday, the Norfolk State Spartans made a statement early against North Carolina Central and won 87-58.
Norfolk State (15-7) eliminated the Eagles from the event which they had captured the last three times the tournament was completed, winning by a convincing margin.
With the win, the Spartans head straight into Saturday’s championship game against the winner of Friday’s 6 p.m. Coppin State-Morgan State semifinal, as a result of its would-be opponent, North Carolina A&T State, bowing out of tournament play following a positive COVID-19 case within its program.
The Spartans, regular-season co-champions of the MEAC’s Northern Division, raced out to a 13-0 lead and led by as many as 24 points before settling for an 11-point (44-33) lead at intermission.
In the second half, Norfolk State scored the first five points of the frame, increasing its lead to 44-33 to play after JJ Matthews connected on a pair of free throws at the 18:44 mark. From there, the Spartans methodically began to march their way into the semifinals, leading by 22 points at 60-28 on a three-pointer by Joe Bryant with 13:06 remaining and ultimately by 30 points at 86-56 on a pair of free throws by Daryl Anderson.
Norfolk State’s victory over the Eagles snapped NCCU’s 11-game winning streak at the Scope Arena, as well as the Eagles’ three-year hold on the tournament championship. Additionally, it revenged the Spartans’ loss to NCCU in the 2019 tournament final.
“This was a great team win,” Spartans head coach Robert Jones said. “We told our kids that if you want to be the champs, you have to beat the champs.
“We preach defense. We preach urgency. We played at an extremely high level those first few minutes of the game. We told our team (about the North Carolina A&T situation) and they responded. We knew the urgency, that we were 40 minutes away from going to Indianapolis.”
For the game, Joe Bryant, Jr. had a career night, scoring 30 points and hitting 10-of-16 shots from the field (62.5%) and 7-of-10 from three-point range (70%). Joining Bryant in double figures for the Spartans were Kashaun Hicks with 13 points and Devante Carter with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.
North Carolina Central, which ended its season with a 5-9 record, was led by C.J. Keyser’s 19 points and Deven Palmer’s 14.