NORFOLK -– The stickback couldn’t have been more routine for Jervon Pressley. He had secured prime rebounding real estate, and when Brian Darden’s bid for a game-winning 3-pointer fell short and into his hands, all that separated Hampton University from a stirring comeback victory at Norfolk State was a simple layup.
But Pressley’s attempt rimmed out, sending the contest to overtime.
“I would have loved to get out of here then,” Pirates coach Edward Joyner Jr. said. “But (Jervon) wanted me to work five more minutes.”
Pressley found redemption during those overtime minutes, scoring the first four points of the extra session to ignite Hampton’s 79-73 escape.
“I just needed to go up strong,” Pressley said of his last-second miss in regulation. “But I came back. My teammates got me the ball and they got my head back in the game.”
Indeed, as Pressley’s shoulders slumped after the final sequence of regulation, Du’Vaughn Maxwell, the Pirates’ top player, encouraged him.
“He’s an emotional young man,” Joyner said of Pressley. “Sometimes it goes the wrong way, and we have to reel him back in, but he made the plays for us in overtime. He told us he would, and he did.”
First Pressley cut down the lane from the foul line and converted a pretty feed from Maxwell. Then he made two free throws.
After closing regulation on an 8-1 run, Hampton (14-11, 9-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) scored the first seven points of overtime to leapfrog Norfolk State (14-11, 8-3) into second place in the league, behind North Carolina Central.
“Mentally, we broke down,” said Robert Jones, the Spartans’ interim head coach. “Not really physically. They were tired, too.”
Promoted from an assistant’s role after then-head coach Anthony Evans exited to Florida International, Jones has done an admirable job in the face of injuries to top scorer Malcolm Hawkins and post man RaShid Gaston. And when two Pendarvis Williams free throws gave the Spartans a 65-58 edge with 2:55 remaining in regulation, Jones liked his chances.
But the Pirates did not blink, even as a capacity crowd of 5,653 relished their apparent demise.
“I’m very proud of them,” Joyner said. “We could have folded up at that point. One thing we kept telling them was, ‘We’ve been here before. We’ve been in these kinds of games.’
“If we’ve played 50 games the last two years, 46 of them have gone this way. … Some of them we won, some of them we lost, but we keep our composure.”
When Maxwell committed his fourth foul early in the second half, Hampton trailed 40-38. Not surprisingly, Joyner sat him. Quite surprisingly, the Pirates promptly scored 11 consecutive points, seven by Dwight Meikle.
A redshirt sophomore from Baltimore, Meikle finished with a team-high 14 points, well above his 5.8 average and his first double-figure outing since Jan. 7 against North Carolina Central.
“We feel like Dwight’s probably the most versatile athlete we have on the team,” Joyner said. “We knew he could do these types of things.”
The Spartans rallied behind 7-footer Brandon Goode (16 points, game-high 10 rebounds) to forge a 54-all tie, after which 3-pointers by Williams, Marese Phelps and Kievyn Lila-St. Rose gave Norfolk State command.
That the Pirates countered is a tribute to their depth. Maxwell, Darden and Deron Powers each contributed 11 points. Maxwell added eight rebounds and three blocks, despite game-long foul issues, and Ke’Ron Brown twice picked Williams to set up transition buckets.
Since dropping three of four MEAC games to open January, Hampton had responded with a 5-1 stretch, the lone blemish by 94-92 in double overtime at Morgan State. The contest included a mind-numbing 79 fouls, 115 free throws and 10 players disqualified for fouls.
The Pirates are idle until next Saturday’s date at Howard, giving them some time to savor a road victory that ended a four-game losing streak to their Hampton Roads rivals.
“The most satisfying win I’ve had in (the last) two years,” Joyner said. “It was a confidence-builder. They’ve been looking for a signature win, and tonight I think they got it.”
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