NORFOLK, Va.,– Top-seeded Norfolk State broke away from a 28-28 halftime score with a hot-shooting second half to register a 72-63 win over fourth-seeded Morgan State Friday in the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament at the Scope Arena.
The Spartans, who will be making their third consecutive trip to the finals, shot 61.9 percent (26-for-51) from the field in the final stanza to pull away from a tight, back-and-forth contest. Norfolk State, which ended the contest with a 51.0 percent accuracy from the field, will meet the winner of Friday’s second semifinal matchup between third-seeded North Carolina Central and seventh-seeded Coppin State.
Norfolk State fell to North Carolina Central in the 2019 final and won the 2021 title. There was no championship game in 2020 due to the onset of COVID-19.
The Spartans improved to 23-6.
“Morgan is probably one of the most talented teams, if not the most talented team in the league,” Spartans head coach Robert Jones, the MEAC Coach of the Year, said, “so for us to fight and claw and pull that game out, I’m really proud of the guys.”
MEAC Player of the Year Joe Bryant, Jr. and All-MEAC Third Team selection Jalen Hawkins both had 19 points to lead the Spartans. Dana Tate and Kris Bankston added 14 points each in the win.
Tate also had a game-high 11 rebounds in the game.
Norfolk State and Morgan State split two regular-season contests – with each team winning on its home court. The Bears were paced by Malik Miller and reserve Isaiah Burke with 14 points each. Miller led the Bears on the boards with eight rebounds.
The Bears ended their season 13-14.
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Norfolk State, which nailed just 43.3 percent (13-for-30) of its shots in the opening half, broke away from a 49-all deadlock with 9:40 remaining with a 10-2 run to go ahead 59-51 with 7:11 on the game clock. Tate nailed a 3-pointer, Hawkins had four points on two free throws and a breakaway layup and Bryant went 3-for-4 from the line during the run.
A dunk by Morgan State’s Chad Vennings with 6:54 to play broke the Bear drought, but the Spartans scored seven straight points to build a 68-54 advantage with just under four minutes remaining. The closest Morgan State came after that was the final margin.
Norfolk State grabbed a 12-5 lead in the contest on a Bankston dunk with 13:06 left in the first half, but Morgan battled back to tie at 18-all on a Lagio Grantsaan follow shot with 5:46 left on the first-period clock. There were three lead changes before the two teams went to the locker room tied at 28-all.
The Spartans scored 11 of the first 13 points of the second half to build a 39-30 cushion on Tate’s 3-pointer with 15:26 remaining before Morgan chipped away at the lead and finally tied the contest at 49-all on Grantsaan put back at the 9:40 mark.
Courtesy: Norfolk State Athletics