Photo courtesy of Nii Flicks
NORFOLK — Norfolk State came out hot like jalapenos in its MEAC Tournament quarterfinal match-up with North Carolina Central on Thursday night.
The Spartans, the North division’s No. 2 seed, dominated from the start in an 87-58 victory.
Never in Doubt
A 24-6 run over the first 9:30 of the game allowed the Spartans to quickly pull away from Levelle Moton’s North Carolina Central squad.
That hot start would result in a 29-point win for Norfolk State. It handed South No. 3 seed North Carolina Central its first MEAC Tournament defeat since the 2016 quarterfinals. That loss also came against Norfolk State.
“This was a great team win,” Norfolk State 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.”
To the Title Game
A positive COVID-19 test within North Carolina A&T’s program will result in a day extra rest for Norfolk State. Instead of taking on the Aggies, Norfolk State will now get to bypass the semifinals and move straight to the MEAC title game — one win away from the NCAA Tournament.
“The day off is tremendous,” Jones said. “In these times, with this pandemic, anything can happen. I hate that it happened, especially that it happened to North Carolina A&T. Prayers to those guys and hopefully they can get back healthy very soon. We are excited to go to the championship game.”
When the news about North Carolina A&T broke, it was just as Norfolk State was preparing to come to Scope Arena — the long-time site of the MEAC Tournament.
“I found out myself when I was in the hotel before I left,” Jones said. “I decided whether or not to tell the guys because we didn’t have it confirmed yet, so I told them that first, that if we win, we are going to the championship. They relayed the message to the whole team and we talked about it.
“The only reason I relayed the message to the whole team is because I knew North Carolina Central knew so I didn’t want them to play with a bigger edge than we wanted to play with,” Jones continued.
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Guard Joe Bryant Jr. said Norfolk State used it as motivation.
“The news just gave us more energy to come out and win and do what we have to do to get to Saturday,” Bryant said. “It just gave us more energy.”
Bryant, a Norfolk native, led the scoring for the Spartans with a career-high 30 points and hit 7-of-10 from three. For a Norfolk native like Bryant, there is just something different about “the Scope”.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing big games in the Scope,” Bryant said. “The Scope is like, you always want to play in the Scope as a Norfolk kid. It’s always good to play in your hometown and have your friends and family watching, I’m just happy we got the win, in my city.”
Norfolk State Stats:
Joe Bryant Jr.: 30 points, three rebounds, three assists
Kashaun Hicks: 13 points, five rebounds, two assists
Devante Carter: 10 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists
TEAM: 45% field goals, 48% 3-pointers, 44 total rebounds
North Carolina Central Stats:
C.J. Keyser: 19 points, four rebounds, three assists
Deven Palmer: 14 points, seven rebounds, assist
Norfolk State now awaits the winner of the semifinal between Coppin State and Morgan State game on Friday night for a spot in the MEAC Championship. The tournament’s winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.