For years, the Norfolk State men’s basketball team has fought tooth and nail to get back to the Big Dance only to fall short every time.
On Saturday afternoon, that all came to an end.
Tournament MVP Joe Bryant scored 17 points in leading North No. 2 seed NSU to a 71-63 win over North No. 3 seed Morgan State in the MEAC Tournament final. The Spartans won their second-ever MEAC title, taking the lead from the Bears midway through the first half on Saturday and never giving it up.
NSU held Morgan State to just 39 percent shooting, including 3-of-17 from the 3-point line. Along with Bryant, senior Kashaun Hicks added 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds, and senior Devante Carter tallied 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Carter was named to the all-tournament team along with Bryant.
The Spartans also won the MEAC title in 2012 when they went on to defeat No. 2 seed Missouri in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. After the MEAC Tournament moved to Norfolk Scope in 2013, NSU had advanced to the finals twice in the previous seven years it was fully held (last year’s championship was cancelled due to COVID-19), in addition to three other semifinal appearances.
NSU ended that championship drought while improving to 16-7 on the year. The Spartans led by double digits most of the second half on Saturday, and the Bears (14-8) got no closer than six late in the game.
The Spartans will find out their seeding and opponent in the NCAA Tournament, held this year in Indianapolis, on Sunday with the NCAA Selection Show beginning at 6 p.m. live on CBS.
“We knew Morgan State wouldn’t go away,” said head coach Robert Jones, who was named the MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Coach. “Coach Broadus is a good friend of mine, and we said all year that we were the two best teams in this league. We showed it tonight.
“It was a dogfight the whole time. We watched their first two games, and they were down by nine at the half, so we just said this wasn’t going to be the third game in a row.”
Indeed, NSU led by seven at the half. Bryant caught fire in the second period, scoring 10 points before the first media timeout as NSU stretched its lead to 13. The junior had a 3-pointer and a 3-point play for the Spartans as their lead went back to double digits. A 17-8 run was ultimately capped by buckets from senior Kyonze Chavis and sophomore Nyzaiah Chambers for a 16-point lead, 56-40, with 13 and a half minutes to go.
NSU’s largest lead of the game stood up. The Bears tried to make a run, getting as close as 11 before Bryant’s corner 3-pointer put an end to that. Morgan State was able to get the deficit to single digits late in the last few minutes, but Hicks had a pair of breakaway dunks on a full-court press to keep MSU from getting any closer than six.
The Bears were led by all-tournament honorees De’Torrion Ware (16 points, five rebounds) and Lagio Grantsaan (13 points, eight rebounds). They finished with a 42-34 edge on the glass.
It was a back and forth game in the early going before a dunk from Chambers on a nice feed from senior Mustafa Lawrence at 10:44 to put NSU ahead for the rest of the half. Carter hit a 3-point shot, and Lawrence also sank one for a six-point lead, 24-18, with less than eight minutes to go in the half.
After a 3-point play from Ware, NSU turned around and scored eight straight for a double-digit lead. Hicks had a pair of baskets during a quick 8-0 run, and Lawrence finished it with three free throws to make it 34-24.
Thanks to a late 3-pointer from Chavis, the Spartans went into the half nursing a 37-30 advantage.
NSU shot 42 percent for the afternoon, 47 percent in the second half, hitting seven 3-pointers along the way. The Spartans forced 18 turnovers and held a 24-10 edge in points off turnovers.
Lawrence added eight points while hitting all five of his free throw attempts. Chavis tallied seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.