Ed Joyner Jr., and his Hampton University players give little thought to regular season standings and potential tournament scenarios. Their current path has put them in fine position.
The Pirates overcame foul trouble and a sluggish start to bounce Bethune-Cookman 75-66 Monday at the HU Convocation Center, their ninth win in their last 10 conference games.
“We’ve become more of a cohesive team and everybody’s contributing,” Joyner said. “Everybody’s totally understanding their role and embracing it.”
Hampton’s (14-15, 11-4 MEAC) win combined with Savannah State’s loss to North Carolina A&T assure the Pirates of at least a tie for third place in the conference, as well as the No. 3 seed in next week’s tournament in Norfolk.
The top three seeds receive byes and don’t play until Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Nos. 4 and 5 seeds must play Monday.
“This winning streak that we have, we’re trying to keep the winning streak going into the tournament, and hopefully we can build some momentum going into the tournament,” said guard Deron Powers, who led the Pirates with 17 points.
Monday was another step in that direction. The Pirates overcame foul trouble to Powers and running mate Aaron Austin, as well as an 11-point deficit in the second half.
Austin was the defibrillator when HU appeared emotionally flat-lined early in the second half, trailing 43-32. He hit a couple of baskets and made several hustle plays.
“I think we fed off Aaron Austin tonight,” Joyner said. “Even though he picked up his fourth foul pretty quick, those 4-5 minutes when we were down 11, he willed us himself back into the ball game so that the team was able to get comfortable.”
Reserves Wesley Dunning and Dwight Meikle continued the surge after Austin went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Dunning, the 6-7 senior, scored nine of his 11 points in the second half and hit all four of his shots, including a clutch 3-pointer. Meikle, a 6-8 redshirt freshman, pitched in with six points and five rebounds.
“Humongous,” Joyner said of their contributions.
Trailing 49-41, Hampton scored on nine of 11 possessions to take a 61-57 lead. Dunning hit a 3-pointer and a pair of second-chance baskets, and Meikle scored the last four points of the run. HU shot 54.5 percent (12-for-22) in the second half and made 16 of 24 free throws.
“I like that we’ve got a balance,” Joyner said. “We’ve got an inside-out balance. … Everybody knows where they can score from and they’re comfortable in their spots. Before, I think we had too many people trying to score from too many places. Now, everybody’s comfortable in their spots, and we can run our offense more fluid and we can get a better shooting percentage.”
On the defensive end, Bethune-Cookman (12-17, 7-8 MEAC) missed eight of its last nine shots and committed four of its 16 turnovers in the final five minutes.
Bethune-Cookman controlled a foul-plagued first half with effort on the boards and an unlikely producer in Allan Dempster. The Wildcats turned eight offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points and a 38-32 lead.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of HU’s starting backcourt, Powers and Austin, picked up three fouls in the half and sat for the last six and eight minutes, respectively.
Dempster, a 6-7 freshman, got extended minutes after starting forward Alex Smith got into foul trouble. He had totaled two points in his previous eight games, but scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half.
Adrien Coleman, the MEAC’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, led the Wildcats with 15 points. But B-CU shot just 37 percent from the field and 3-for-16 from 3-point range.
Hampton had eight players score at least six points and six players grab at least four rebounds. They go into Thursday’s regular season finale against second-place N.C. Central one game shy of .500.
“At one point, we were 2-10,” Joyner said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get 10 wins. If we could get it back to .500, that would be great. To get third place, that would be great. Everything that they’ve done this second half, have been building blocks so that we can walk into this tournament as comfortable as possible, to give ourselves a chance to win. Right now, they’re beginning to look comfortable.”