HAMPTON -- Hampton University evolved during a two-week, four-game road swing, which provided a glimpse into the kind of team the Pirates can be as they prepare for the season’s final stretch.
The Pirates smothered Howard and leading scorer James Daniel in the first half and did just enough in the second half for a 63-47 win Saturday at the HU Convocation Center.
“That wasn’t our best effort,” HU forward Du’Vaughn Maxwell said. “We had a great week of practice. What we did on defense and sharing the ball and talking to teammates was scary. But we can get a lot better.”
Hampton (12-11, 7-3 MEAC) won for the fourth time in five games – the only loss a double-overtime agonizer at Morgan State – and sits in third place in the conference behind North Carolina Central and Norfolk State.
Maxwell scored 16 points as all 11 Pirates scratched in a game in which baskets were tough to come by. HU shot just 34 percent from the field and won comfortably, because Howard managed just five baskets in the first half and 14 for the game.
The Pirates’ defensive target was Daniel. The freshman guard from Phoebus High leads the MEAC in scoring (20.4 ppg). He finished with 21 in his first game back home, against fellow Phantoms Brian Darden and Breon Key, but managed just five in the first half as Howard committed a dozen turnovers and found itself in a 36-15 halftime hole.
“J-Bird coming back home, the Howard-HU rivalry, I think he was really rushing things and trying to do a little bit too much,” said Bison coach Kevin Nickelberry, using Daniel’s nickname. “We sat him some and he settled down a little bit. He came in in the second half and settled down a little bit.
“Obviously, Hampton’s focus was to stop him. By rushing and speeding him up, they sped our entire team up. There weren’t a lot of field goals made. … We just couldn’t make a shot. Credit goes to Hampton. They did a good job of speeding ‘Bird’ up and speeding our entire team up.”
Daniel got most of his points at the foul line (13-for-15), but he and Howard No. 2 scorer Prince Okoroh were a combined 5-for-25 from the field.
“We wanted to take him out,” HU coach Ed Joyner Jr., said. “We said that wherever he was, we wanted to have a body, maybe two, near him. Let’s see if somebody else could step up, outside of Okoroh.”
Hampton led by as many as 25 points early in the second half before getting sloppy. The Pirates committed 15 of their 22 turnovers after halftime and made just six baskets. Defensive intensity dropped a couple of ticks as Howard drew as close as 11, but HU compensated by making 12 of 15 free throws – 21 of 27 for the game.
“I felt like we got complacent all the way around,” Joyner said. “I think we thought we won it in the first 20 (minutes), and you can’t play like that. We ended up having to turn it on to keep a double-digit lead, but you can’t turn the light on and off all the time. Luckily, we built a good cushion. But I felt we didn’t play hungry enough that second half. We’re definitely going to look at film and we’re going to focus on that so we can get ready for Maryland Eastern Shore.”
In Hampton’s only loss in the past two weeks, the double-overtime game at Morgan State, the Pirates led by as many as 10 points in the second half and missed 22 of 55 free throws.
“We have a young team,” Maxwell said. “Me being one of the oldest ones on the team and a captain and a team leader, we have to do a better job – and I’m going to start with myself, I put it on myself – a better job of leading and finding a way. We have to put teams away like that. We can’t let them stick around. Prime example: Morgan State. We’ll come back and lose games like that. We have to learn, get back in practice and work on that.”
Hampton’s previous home game was an 80-71 loss to Morgan State on Jan. 20. The Pirates’ four-game road swing demonstrated depth and focus, particularly at the defensive end.
“It started at Savannah State,” Joyner said. “We’ve done things well defensively. Now we’re starting to rebound better, we’re starting to do some other things better and get paid from our defense.
“We would play 25 seconds of great defense, but then give up an offensive rebound and turn around and have to play 25 more, and then get a foul called. Those things are helping us out. We initially feel good about our defense. It’s what happens after that, and we’re starting to take ownership of that, the guys are starting to be accountable for that.”
Joyner tinkered with lineup combinations and the Pirates got contributions from Dwight Meikle and Miles Jackson, in the first half in particular, that helped build the big lead. HU’s depth also spread out fouls.
“We’re an aggressive bunch and we do foul,” Joyner said, “so with the way things are called nowadays, you either adjust to it or you’ve got to have bodies. We feel like we have bodies.
“We feel like we’re a deep team and we play guys in a bunch of different situations that normally wouldn’t. So now we’re starting to see the benefits of that. Hopefully, by the time we get to these next few games and the MEAC tournament, everybody’s comfortable. You want a comfortable team.”
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