HAMPTON – Norfolk State demonstrated why it's unbeaten and leads the conference, and Hampton displayed a contender's grit that's short a little polish and execution.
The Spartans weathered a shaky last six minutes and a Hampton comeback and squeezed out a 62-59 win against their rival in Monday's Presidents' Day affair at the HU Convocation Center.
"It's the same type of game we've been playing all year," Pirates coach Ed Joyner Jr., said. "It just came back to bite us at the end. We didn't make the plays we needed to at the end."
Norfolk State (17-10, 12-0 MEAC) is the league's lone unbeaten team and has won 11 in a row, the sixth-longest streak in Division I. Seven of its 12 conference wins have been by seven points or less, including a 74-67 win against Hampton last month in Norfolk.
Du'Vaughn Maxwell and Ramon Mercado led the Pirates (10-14, 7-4 MEAC) with 12 points apiece, and Deron Powers and Ke'Ron Brown scored 10 apiece.
HU missed 13 of 16 shots from 3-point range, including a couple of critical looks in the final seconds. The Pirates shot just 30 percent from the field and nearly stole one.
Malcolm Hawkins' driving layup with 22 seconds remaining gave Norfolk State a 62-59 lead. That set up a wild final sequence that included, on the HU side, missed shots by Brown and Mercado, a turnover, and a steal.
Norfolk State survived two turnovers and two missed free throws by Rob Johnson. The Spartans didn't clinch the victory until Powers, racing downcourt, was unable to get off a 3-point heave in the final 4.3 seconds before the final buzzer.
"Too many turnovers, undisciplined on defense," Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. "We were lucky."
Hawkins led the Spartans with 18 points, and freshman forward Rashid Gaston provided a huge boost with 17 points and nine rebounds, offsetting foul trouble to center Brandon Goode.
"We got wide-open looks," Joyner said. "I can't get mad at that. We didn't finish. That's the stuff we've been finishing the last couple games and they didn't fall for us tonight."
Hampton led by as many as 24-17 in the first half, before Hawkins and the Spartans' defense came to life. Hawkins scored eight of Norfolk State's next 11 points, and NSU's defensive length caused the Pirates to set up their offense farther out than they wanted.
Hawkins' driving shot with 2:47 remaining gave Norfolk State a 28-26 lead. The teams were tied at 32 at halftime.
Gaston picked up the first half slack in the absence of Goode, who drew two fouls in the first three minutes and sat for the final 16-plus minutes. Gaston, averaging just 7.7 points per game, notched eight point and five rebounds in the first half.
Norfolk State was determined to go inside to start the second half. Fuentes took advantage of his height to drive past Powers twice. Hawkins hit a free throw after he was fouled on a drive. Johnson drove for a contested layin that gave NSU a 39-34 lead.
Goode scored his first points of the game on a baby left-handed hook shot. Mercado's reverse layup cut the HU deficit to 41-36, but Pendarvis Williams' 3-pointer on an inbounds play gave Norfolk State a 44-36 lead.
Hawkins' driving layup at the 13:02 mark pushed Norfolk State's lead to 10, and Goode hit a pair of free throws after he was fouled driving to the basket.
Hampton, meanwhile, missed jump shots – some contested, but others wide open as Norfolk State packed its defense inside. HU missed seven shots in a row and fell behind 48-36.
The Pirates' last push came with less than seven minutes remaining. Mercado scored five consecutive points, on a 3-pointer and a jump shot, and Powers scored four – two free throws and a rainbow floater in the lane that cut the lead to 59-56.
Maxwell's spinning jump hook pulled the Pirates within 59-58 with 2:47 remaining. HU had two chances to take the lead, but Dunning missed a layup from a pretty feed by Mercado, and then Mercado missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Norfolk State, meanwhile, was in the midst of a drought in which it came up empty on nine consecutive possessions. But the Spartans again found a way to win.
"I'm never happy with a loss," Joyner said, "but I am encouraged about what this team can do. If you want to win a MEAC championship, if that's the ultimate goal, we'll see them again."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun