By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
Norfolk, VA – Top-seed Hampton and head coach Ed Joyner, Jr. are the new men’s basketball kings of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
This after Joyner’s squad, led by a quartet of seniors, fought back from a nine-point second-half deficit to take an 81-69 win over a tough South Carolina State team and grab its second straight MEAC Tournament championship here Saturday afternoon at the Scope Arena.
The Pirates’ third tournament championship under Joyner in his seven years establishes Hampton as the league’s new standard bearer.
Hampton (21-10), the tournament’s top seed, outscored the 3rd-seeded Bulldogs 39-18 over the last 15-plus minutes to wipe out a 51-42 S. C. State lead and pull away to victory.
Senior guards Reginald Johnson and Brian Darden and fellow senior big men Jervon Pressley and Quinton Chievous all scored in double-figure scorers for Hampton and took turns hurting the Bulldogs (19-14). The foursome combined to score all but two of the Pirates’ 42 second-half points.
The decisive stretch came after the teams had six lead changes and battled to 11 ties, the final one at 67-all on a jumper by SCSU’s Tashombe Riley at the 4:06 mark.
Chievous converted a lay in off a drive and Johnson followed with two free throws to put Hampton up 71-67 with three minutes left, part of a 14-2 run that closed out the game. The only points from the Bulldogs, playing their third game in four days, was a layup by forward Gabriel McRay with 2:32 to play.
Hampton converted 6 of 6 free throws in that stretch, and layups by Pressley, Johnson and Darden, to salt the game away.
Johnson had 21 points, 11 in the first half, and also led the Pirates with eight assists. He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Darden’s points came on four 3-pointers and his basket at the final buzzer. He added eight of eight free throws to finish with a team-high 22 points. His third 3-pointer came right before the halftime buzzer and sent the teams into the break tied at 39.
Pressley scored all 14 of his points in the second half fueling the Pirates’ comeback. The 6-8 back-up center got loose inside for six points in a 13-2 Hampton five-minute run that tied the game at 55 on Darden’s fourth 3-pointer with 10:43 left. Pressley (6 of 6) and Darden both finished perfect from the line while Johnson converted seven of nine. Chievous finished with 13 points. His seven rebounds and Pressley’s nine led the Pirates to a 39-28 edge on the boards.
The four seniors, all part of the 2015 Pirates’ championship run, came up big when it counted.
“From a mental standpoint, we just wanted to keep making plays,” said a joyous and vibrant Joyner after the victory.
“We wanted to keep the pressure on them,” he said. “We were confident that the difference would be if we kept making plays. Pressley was huge. We thought his size would eventually cause some matchup problems for them, and it did. And then Darden caught fire.” S. C. State head coach Murray Garvin said Hampton’s senior leadership and his team’s fatigue made a difference, but they were not excuses.
“They deserved their No. 1 seed and because of that they had more time for rest and recovery,” said Garvin whose team played late Friday night before the Saturday afternoon start. “You can’t beat experience. I believe Pressley was a 50% free throw shooter and he made 6 of 6 down the stretch.
“But we had our chances. We had great looks but we just weren’t able to make plays when we needed them late.” S. C. State got a game-high 25 points from all-MEAC second team guard Eric Eaves, who scored on a dazzling array of drives and pull-up jumpers. He went out with his fourth foul with three minutes left, and with him went the Bulldogs’ offense. McRay and Riley finished with 10 each.
The teams battled to a 39-all tie at the half. The evenly-matched stanza saw each teams shoot 50% from the field and both gather 15 rebounds. Eaves led the Bulldogs with 12 points. The Hampton backcourt tandem of Johnson (12 points) and Darden (10) led the Pirates. Chievous had 8. The Bulldogs’ bench outscored Hampton’s reserves 20-0 in the half.
Both teams will advance to postseason play.
With the win, Hampton earns its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Div. I Tournament with the automatic bid from the league. Their opponent and seeding will be announced Sunday evening on the tournament’s selection show.
Garvin was informed by the S. C. State athletic director after the game that the Bulldogs will play on the road in the postseason CIT Tournament vs. Grand Canyon State on Tuesday.
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
Jeff Short, Norfolk State
Tashombe Riley, South Carolina State
Eric Eaves, South Carolina State
Derrick Chievous, Hampton
Reginald Johnson, Hampton
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Reginald Johnson, Hampton
Ed Joyner, Jr., Hampton