NORFOLK — As presently constructed, Hampton University cannot rely on simply outscoring opponents. The Pirates must defend, rebound and take care of the ball.
On Saturday, they managed just one of three at a critical juncture against their chief rival and paid for the lapse in a 74-67 loss at Norfolk State.
The Spartans (12-10, 7-0 MEAC) sped away during a three-minute span of the second half and weathered poor foul shooting down the stretch to remain atop the conference.
"You constantly hear Coach (Ed) Joyner say it and you constantly hear me say it, it comes down to mental toughness," the Pirates' Du'Vaughn Maxwell said. "We basically gave them that ball game tonight. We came out of halftime with momentum, and we still played hard, but turned the ball over. That stuff just cannot happen."
Hampton (5-13, 2-3 MEAC) committed 11 of its 18 turnovers in the second half, which contributed to Norfolk State shooting 58 percent after halftime.
Deron Powers had what's becoming a typically gritty and effective performance, with a game-high 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting. But backcourt mates Jasper Williams, Ramon Mercado and Aaron Austin were a combined 3-for-20 from the field and 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
"The second half, we missed some of the same shots that we were making in the first half," Joyner said. "We did make a few turnovers late in the second half while they continued to press. We handled it well in the first half, but I think some of those in the second half were fatigue turnovers, where my guards got a little tired from the constant pressure."
The Pirates made just 4 of 20 shots from 3-point range and missed all eight 3-point attempts in the second half.
"I didn't think a lot of them were bad shots, we just didn't make them," Joyner said. "A couple times we rushed. We got it inside to (Emmanuel) Okoroba and Maxwell two or three times and I think they rushed their moves and ended up losing the ball.
"Ramon Mercado got three wide-open 3s in the second half. He was nailing them in the first half, but he couldn't hit them in the second half. That's just how the game goes. You've got to make shots, you've got to make plays."
Pendarvis Williams led the Spartans with 16 points, Rob Johnson had 13 and Malcolm Hawkins added 11 in a foul-plagued 15 minutes.
The key sequence began after Powers fed Maxwell for a dunk that pulled Hampton within 55-53 at the 6:53 mark. The Pirates missed three of their next four shots and committed four turnovers in a span of six possessions, which led to a handful of runouts and layups.
Johnson's 3-pointer with 3:47 remaining gave the Spartans their biggest lead, at 67-56. Norfolk State missed 9 of 10 free throws during one span and hit just 17 of 35 for the game, or the final margin would have been wider.
"It was about getting stops," Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans said. "We had to get easy baskets because we weren't shooting well. We were struggling a bit. And we did that. We got some layups that started to energize us."
Joyner wasn't happy with the team's second-half defense, but said NSU's 58-percent shooting was a bit misleading.
"Any time you shoot 58 percent is good," he said, "but I think we had a stretch where we made four or five turnovers in a row and gave up layups or wide-open 3's, so they got 'bunny' shots. Some of those were 'bunny' shots. But they did a good job in the second half, and we couldn't sustain what we were doing in the first half."
Indeed, the Pirates forged a 39-32 halftime lead as Norfolk State struggled with shooting (9-for-27) and foul trouble to Hawkins and center Brandon Goode, in particular. Goode played just 15 minutes before fouling out, but he also provided a second-half spark with a couple of baskets before picking up his fifth foul.
"In the first half, we got them in a little bit of foul trouble," Maxwell said. "We were going through their chest. We were playing hard, playing physical. Second half, we came out, we were too content to shoot jump shots. That's not what got us the lead. That's not going to win us the game, shooting the ball from there."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun