INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (NSUSpartans.com) - After years of coming oh-so-close to getting back to the Big Dance following their monumental upset of No. 2 seed Missouri, the Norfolk State men's basketball team will make its way back into the NCAA Tournament this Thursday when the Spartans take on Appalachian State in the First Four.
Game time is set for 8:40 p.m. at Indiana University's Assembly Hall. Both teams enter as No. 16 seeds in the tournament, with the winner advancing to take on overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday.
This will mark the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Appalachian State at a Glance
The Mountaineers won the Sun Belt Championship after winning four games in four days, two of those going to overtime. They went 7-8 in the regular season in the league and 17-11 overall. Appalachian State is led by four players in double figures. Adrian Delph (13.2), Justin Forrest (13.0) and Michael Almonacy (12.9) are all battling for the team scoring lead, and all have made at least 45 3-pointers on the season. Donovan Gregory is not far behind those three at 10.7 points with a team-best 6.0 rebounds. The Mountaineers hold teams to just 64.5 points per game and are +2.4 in turnover margin.
Last Time Out
Norfolk State took the lead from Morgan State midway through the first half and never gave it up in a 71-63 win over the Bears on Saturday in the MEAC Tournament final at Norfolk Scope Arena. NSU led by double digits for a good portion of the second half, winning the tournament for the first time in eight tries since it moved to Norfolk in 2013 (the 2020 tournament was cancelled). Tournament MVP Joe Bryant Jr. scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting and helped limit the Bears to just 39 percent shooting. Kashaun Hicks finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Devante Carter added 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists to also earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team. The Spartans forced 18 turnovers and scored 24 points off those giveaways.
NSU is making its second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Its first famously came, of course, in 2012 when the No. 15 seed Spartans knocked off No. 2 seed Missouri in the first round, 86-84, a win considered the biggest in NCAA history in terms of point spread. Kyle O'Quinn (26 points, 14 rebounds), Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin (20 points each) led the way that afternoon in Omaha, Nebraska, in what was, at the time, just the fifth ever 15-over-2 upset in tournament history.
The Spartans are also making their eight postseason appearance in their Division I era (1997-Present) and all have come since 2012. NSU went to the NIT in 2013 after winning the conference's regular season title at 16-0 and in 2019 after winning the regular season title again (14-2). NSU also faced Eastern Michigan (2014), Eastern Kentucky (2015), Columbia (2016) and Liberty (2017) in the CollegeInsider.com tournaments. Since 2012, NSU has failed to make the postseason just one time it was held, in 2018.
MEAC Tournament History
This year marked the second-ever MEAC title along with the 2012 squad. NSU has been to the finals five times, including in 2009, '17 and '19, and to the semifinals of the MEAC tournament 10 times in 13 seasons the tournament was completed. Including this season, the Spartans have been a No. 4 seed or better in 12 of the last 14 years.
• NSU's share of the MEAC Northern Division title this year marked the third regular season title for the program since joining the league. The Spartans won the regular season title in 2012-13 (16-0) and 2018-19 (14-2). Due to the pandemic, this year marked the first time the league split into divisions since NSU has been a member.
• The Spartans' 87-58 win over North Carolina Central marked their biggest MEAC tournament win ever, topping a 21-point win over North Carolina A&T in the 2003 tournament. The team's 14 3-pointers versus NCCU are tied for the fourth-most in a game in school history.
• Norfolk State now sits 29th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (40.4), 38th in turnovers forced (15.61), 47th in the nation in turnover margin (+2.5), and 67th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (31.6). They rank first in the MEAC in field goal percentage defense and defensive rebound percentage (71.5), second in scoring defense (69.2), rebounding (37.0), rebound margin (+0.8), turnover margin (+2.52) and scoring margin (+6.0), and third in opponent rebounding (36.1) defensive rebounds (26.5).
• NSU currently stands 44th in the nation and first in the MEAC in 3-point shooting at 36.8 percent, a pace that is ahead of the school's D-I record of 36.6 percent set in 2018-19. The top four 3-point scorers are shooting better than 38 percent in Daryl Anderson (26-of-57, 45.6%), Jalen Hawkins (23-of-56, 41.1%), Kashaun Hicks (34-of-86, 39.5%), and Joe Bryant Jr. (34-of-87, 39.1%. Anderson ranks first in the MEAC in 3-point shooting. On offense, the Spartans are also second in the MEAC in scoring (75.2), and third in field goal percentage (43.6).
• The team is up to 75.2 points per game, which would rank as the most since 1999-2000 (76.0) and the third-most in its D-I history. NSU is also currently on pace to finish first in its D-I history in turnover margin (+2.52) and scoring margin (+6.0), second in winning percentage (69.6%, 16-7), fewest turnovers per game (13.09), and defensive rebounds per game (26.48), fourth in field goal % defense (40.4), and fifth in free throw percentage (70.6).
• The Spartans are getting nearly 30 points per game from their bench this year. They have outscored opponents or been even in bench points in 21 of 23 games. For the year they are outscoring teams 29.9-18.1 per game.
• NSU has outscored 19 of 23 opponents in points off turnovers, and for the year the Spartans hold a 18.4-13.0 edge.
• In 12 of the last 15 games, the Spartans have scored more or been even in points in the paint than the opposition. They hold a 27.8-23.2 edge for the year.
• This year, the Spartans have had the same amount or fewer fouls than the opposition in 15 of 23 games. Last year it was the opposite, as the Spartans had the same amount or more fouls in 22 of 31 games.
• NSU is becoming adept at second half surges. This season, the team has scored the same amount or more points in second halves than first halves in 14 of 23 games. The Spartans are averaging +4.0 more points in second halves (39.3-35.3).
• NSU has used 10 different starting lineups this year, with the starting five of Matthews-Hicks-Bryant-Chavis-Carter used the most at five times.
Since 2011-12, Norfolk State owns a 121-35 record in regular season MEAC play, a 77.6 winning percentage. Among all D-I programs, NSU ranks ninth in the nation in conference winning percentage during that time.
At 121-35 (65-13 at home - 40-6 since the start of the 2015-16 season - and 56-22 on the road), NSU is ahead of North Carolina Central (111-41) for the best record in the league during that time. Counting MEAC tournament games, the Spartans are 133-42, while the Eagles are 128-45.
Including this season, the Spartans have finished fourth or better in the MEAC standings in 14 of the last 15 seasons, including 10 straight years. Only nine other teams in Division I have a longer streak than NSU of finishing in the top 4 of their respective conference standings.
NSU has posted 23 straight seasons with a .500 or better conference record in its Division I era. In fact, in Norfolk State's 66 seasons in either the EIAC, CIAA or the MEAC, the program has had just one losing conference record (9-10 in the CIAA in 1990-91).
NSU ranks fifth in the nation for the longest streak of .500-or-better conference records in a row in D-I, trailing only Murray State, Kansas, Gonzaga and Duke. NSU has posted 29 straight .500 or better conference records, dating back to that 1990-91 campaign.
Every other team in the MEAC has had at least one losing conference record since 2017-18.