Led by a deep, veteran roster and an incomparable big man, the Norfolk State University (NSU) men’s basketball team is going to the Big Dance for the first time.
Senior center Kyle O’Quinn scored 18 points to lead three Spartans in double figures as No. 2 NSU claimed its first MEAC title and NCAA tournament berth with a 73-70 win over Bethune-Cookman March 10 at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
O’Quinn, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had 18 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Pendarvis Williams added 17 points, and all-tournament team selection Rob Johnson, a junior forward, scored 15 to pace the Spartans (25-9).
Junior guard Kevin Dukes led five Bethune-Cookman players in double figures with 18 points. The Wildcats finished their season with a record of 18-17.
Norfolk State built a double-digit lead late in the first half and maintained it for much of the second half before fending off the upset-minded Bethune-Cookman in the final seconds.
Johnson scored 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor in the second half. His two free throws with 7:30 left gave NSU a 56-42 lead. The 14-point cushion matched the Spartans’ biggest advantage of the second half.
Norfolk State held Bethune-Cookman to 8-of-26 shooting (31 percent) in the first half. NSU, meanwhile, connected on 14-of-33 (42 percent) and committed just four turnovers. The Spartans also outrebounded the Wildcats, 21-13, in the first half, with 11 of those boards coming on the offensive end.
NSU held Bethune-Cookman without a field goal for more than four minutes to start the second half, and extended its lead to 42-28 on Johnson’s step-back baseline jumper with 15:43 left to play. But Bethune-Cookman heated up, connecting on 49 percent of their shots in the second half (18-of-37) to finish at 41 percent for the game.
Junior forward Javoris Bryant had 15 points for Bethune-Cookman, while sophomore guard Adrien Coleman added 14 points, senior forward Garrius Holloman had 12 points and freshman guard Ricky Johnson contributed 11 points.
Along with leading scorer Dukes, those four were the only Bethune-Cookman players who scored.
The Spartans shot 44 percent for the game and made 78 percent from the foul line (21-of-27). NSU also outrebounded Bethune-Cookman, 38-30, getting a game-high nine boards from Williams.
O’Quinn and Johnson were both named to the all-tournament team. O’Quinn becomes the first player since Hampton’s Tommy Adams to win both MEAC Player of the Year and MEAC Tournament MVP since 2002.
“There is a great basketball tradition at Norfolk State,” said head coach Anthony Evans, who was named MEAC Tournament Most Outstanding Coach. “We see all the old CIAA championship banners in [Echols Hall] every day, and we’re honored and excited to be able to add a MEAC banner to the rafters.”
The men’s basketball team also helped the Norfolk State athletics program pull off a rare double win in football and basketball. This marks just the sixth time in MEAC history that the same school has won both the MEAC football (including ties) and men’s basketball tournament titles in the same year, and first time since Hampton University did it in 2005-06.
Norfolk State will learn its Division I NCAA Tournament matchup when the brackets are unveiled during March 11 at 6 p.m.