It might have taken 25 years, but the Norfolk State men’s basketball team finally got an opportunity to battle in-state opponent VCU in front of a sold-out audience. And the Spartans sure made the most of it.
Norfolk State (6-3) earned a thrilling 63-60 road victory over the Rams at the Siegel Center on Friday night in the first matchup between the schools since Dec. 19, 1998. The triumph marked Norfolk State’s first win over VCU since the first-ever meeting between the programs in 1972.
“Great program win over an in-state opponent,” NSU head coach Robert Jones said. “It was a tough environment, and the guys banded together and got it done. Our defensive effort was great today.”
Allen Betrand and Jamarii Thomas led the Spartans with 17 points each, the latter adding a team-high five assists. Christian Ings also scored in double figures, registering 12 points on a 5-of-7 shooting night in 16 minutes of action.
Despite Norfolk State converting on just 2-of-16 shots from behind the arc, the Spartans dominated the paint, outscoring the Rams 40-18 in that area on Friday.
Thomas drew first blood for the Spartans, knocking down a mid-range jumper with a hand in his face to get the matchup started. Jaylani Darden and Ings both went to the rim with strength for a pair of buckets, putting Norfolk State ahead 6-5 at the first media timeout.
“Our coach told us that if we keep shooting, the shots are going to fall, or we will get to the rack,” Darden said. “We got strong, got to the rack, and bounced right back.”
VCU responded quickly out of the timeout. Alphonzo Billups III knocked down a 3-point field goal before Tobue Lawal finished a baseline dunk to push VCU ahead 14-8. Norfolk State responded with a pair of scores to pull back within two.
With VCU in control and the Rams crowd feeling the energy, Norfolk State needed to gain momentum quickly, and the Spartans did just that. Betrand knocked down a turnaround jumper to spark an 8-0 NSU run, capped by a thunderous one-handed poster slam from Ings.
The highlight play thrust Norfolk State ahead 20-16 and forced a VCU timeout, but the Rams responded with a pair of paint scores to tie things back up. Thomas got a teardrop to fall, and Darden drained NSU’s first 3-pointer of the day, helping the Spartans take a 26-23 advantage into the halftime break.
Ings got things moving in the second half with a quick turnaround jumper, but VCU’s Max Shulga responded with a driving layup at the other end. Back-to-back scores by Thomas kept the Spartans comfortably in front.
Thomas showed he’s more than just a scorer, dishing a pair of perfect passes to Tyrel Bladen and Betrand for wide-open dunks. The second of the two, an alley-oop slam, gave the Spartans their first double-digit lead of the night.
VCU’s Jason Nelson hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions before Shulga hit another within minutes to get the Rams within five. A dunk from Kuluel Mading and an acrobatic layup from Thomas helped the Spartans regain their footing.
A pair of free throws from Thomas pushed NSU ahead 54-42 with four minutes on the clock, the team’s largest lead of the night. Zeb Jackson knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers immediately after, however, cutting the advantage to six.
The Rams pulled within one possession with under two minutes remaining, but Thomas answered with a clutch 3-pointer, just the second of the night for NSU.
VCU continued to chip away at the lead but could never overcome the Spartans. The Rams had one final chance, down by three in the game’s final seconds, but Shulga’s 3-pointer hit back iron and bounced off, clinching the Spartans’ second-ever victory over VCU.
“We really wanted to come out here and prove a point,” Betrand said after the win. “We wanted to show that we’re not just any mid-major team, that we can really play.”
Courtesy: Norfolk State Athletics