NORFOLK — Hampton University concluded the regular season on a historic defensive note as it wrapped up an unbeaten conference record and the No. 1 seed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.
So naturally, the Lady Pirates spent the time leading up to their quarterfinal game on defense. The result was an extension of their season-ending run, as they crushed Delaware State 63-28 Wednesday at Scope.
"After the season, and I commend the team and leadership of the team in taking a look at film and seeing that there are some things that we can improve upon," HU coach David Six said. "We went back to basics in practice. As Nikki (Hamilton) said, the (defensive) rotation was a little late. We weren't rotating properly, so we went back to that, kind of like almost at the beginning of the season. I think that helped us today."
Hampton (26-5) won its 17th consecutive game and faces the winner of Thursday's Coppin State-South Carolina State quarterfinal, at noon Friday in a semifinal.
Alyssa Bennett and Olivia Allen led a balanced offense with 13 points apiece, but again it was the Lady Pirates' defense that suffocated a Delaware State squad that played them competitively less than three weeks ago.
Hampton defeated the Lady Hornets 49-41 on Feb. 25 in Dover, Del., its closest game since mid-January. Delaware State also was the last team to break 50 points against HU, in a 75-56 loss on Feb. 11.
On Wednesday, the Lady Pirates' trapping defense forced 27 turnovers and limited Delaware State to 25.5-percent shooting (13-for-51). HU led 37-12 at halftime and held an opponent to 30 points or fewer for the third consecutive game.
"We pushed our defense up more than last time," Hamilton said, referring to the most recent Delaware State game. "Last time, the rotation was a little late, and we practiced on it and worked on it, and we got it."
Hampton entered the tournament ranked second nationally in scoring defense (48 ppg) and third in field-goal percentage defense (.322) and 3-point field-goal defense (.246). In their last seven games, the Lady Pirates are holding opponents to 36.4 points per game and 25.4-percent shooting.
"To be honest, they're the exact same team," Delaware State head coach Tamika Louis said of HU. "I just think we really didn't come out ready to play. The last couple teams we played haven't put that kind of pressure on us. I just think we (weren't) ready. I definitely give them a lot of credit. But on our side, we (weren't) really aggressive, weren't really looking to attack. We were kind of playing on our heels a little bit."
Delaware State (10-21) had lost nine of 10 games to conclude the regular season before defeating Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday in a MEAC first-round game.
"I'm not taking anything away from them, because they did a great job," Louis said. "But we didn't do a good job of attacking and going north and south and not being afraid. I think we were a little passive and we were a little afraid today."
Keiara Avant, the conference player of the year, finished one rebound shy of a double-double (11 points, nine rebounds). Hamilton, who joined Avant on the all-league first team, added eight points and five assists.
The Lady Pirates swept Coppin State, winning 68-59 on Feb. 4 in Baltimore and 58-50 on Jan. 21 at home. They faced S.C. State only once, winning 59-46 in Spartanburg on Dec. 1.
"We were very anxious in practice since Sunday," Avant said. "We were trying to stay focused, stay motivated. We had a couple days of rest. But actually being able to play today, it relieved a lot of stress and we were able to play the game we wanted to play. Now we've got that one win and two more to go. Just try to rest up and get ready for Friday."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun