NORFOLK, Va. (NSUSpartans.com) – Forwards Shine Strickland-Gills and Mangela Ngandjui both recorded double-doubles as South Division No. 2 seed Norfolk State defeated North No. 3 seed Coppin State 56-45 in the quarterfinals of the 2021 MEAC Basketball Tournament on Thursday afternoon at Scope Arena.
Strickland-Gills scored a team and career-high 13 points and also pulled down a career-best 13 rebounds for the Spartans (5-8), who advance to a noon semifinal on Friday against MEAC North No. 1 seed Howard. Ngandjui contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds of her own for her fourth double-double of the season. Jalynn Holmes added 12 points and Armani Franklin 10 for the well-balanced Spartan attack.
The lead changed hands six times in the first quarter and eight in all in what was a tight first half. Camryn Platt-Morris broke a 14-all tie with a 3-pointer off the Spartan bench to give NSU the lead for good early in the second quarter. The Spartans led by as many as seven points in the first half after a Ngandjui layup made it 26-19 with 3:04 remaining in the second quarter.
The Eagles, however, scored the final four points of the half to draw within 26-23 at the break.
Alexandria Hamilton's layup 34 seconds into the third quarter cut NSU's lead to a single point. But the Spartans answered with a 10-1 run over the next three and a half minutes. Strickland-Gills hit her first career 3-pointer and Franklin capped it with a triple of her own to push the Spartans' advantage to 10, 36-26.
CSU (2-13), which trailed by nine after three quarters, had one more push. The Eagles scored the first five points of the fourth period, three on free throws by Hope Evans, to pull within 44-40 with 7:30 left.
But NSU clamped down on defense, holding Coppin State to just two field goals and five points the rest of the game. After CSU's spurt, Strickland-Gills made a pair of free throws and Franklin hit a long two-pointer to extend the NSU lead back to nine. Strickland-Gills scored six of her points in the final quarter.
The Spartans played their characteristic stingy defense, holding the Eagles to just 25 percent shooting (15-of-59). Ngandjui and Strickland-Gills had three blocks apiece and helped NSU to a 45-39 rebounding advantage. The Spartans also had 11 steals as a team, with freshman guard Niya Fields leading the way with a career-high four.
"I'm grateful we came out poised and energetic," NSU head coach Larry Vickers said. "The first game of the tournament is the hardest. We didn't get to shoot around (at Scope) and get a feel for the rims, so I knew our offense might not be great to start. But our defense was pretty locked in all game. Even though we missed some shots early, we were still controlling the game with our defense and rebounding."
Fields also handed out a career-high six assists to lead all players. She did not commit a turnover. Holmes also grabbed six rebounds.
Eagle leading scorer Aliyah Lawson led CSU with 12 points, but shot just 4-of-19 from the floor. Hamilton added 11 points.
Friday, the Spartans will meet the Bison in the tournament for third straight year. NSU won by 31 in the quarterfinals last year in what ended up being the final game of the 2019-20 season. Howard received a bye until the semifinals this year by virtue of finishing first in the Northern Division.
"We haven't seen Howard (on film) all year," Vickers said. "We know they have the Player of the Year (Jayla Thornton), they six or seven new players and they play fast. But we'll be locked in and ready to play."