PHOENIX, Ariz. (NSUSpartans.com) – Led by another dominant performance by forward Kris Bankston, Norfolk State finished the Boost Mobile HBCU Challenge hosted by Chris Paul 2-0 by outlasting Grambling State 70-63 on Monday night at the Footprint Center.
Bankston, a transfer from Little Rock, tied his career with 20 points and also had 10 rebounds to notch his second double-double as a Spartan. He was 7-of-10 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. That came one night after he scored 18 in the win against Hampton.
The Spartans' latest victory extended their best-ever Division I start to 8-1. The Spartans, who last started a season 8-1 during the 1995-96 campaign, are tied for the most wins in the country through Monday's games. They were ranked 23rd in the Division I Mid-Major Top 25 Poll by CollegeInsider.com as of Monday morning.
NSU shot 52 percent in the second half and hit just enough free throws down the stretch to hold off Grambling (2-5), which won its first game of the two-day event against NSU's MEAC rival, Morgan State, on Sunday night.
Neither team led by more than six in a tight first half. A 3-pointer by Tyrese Jenkins and a free throw by Chris Ford put the Spartans up 22-16 with 5:54 left in the first half. Grambling knotted the score twice more before the half, the last time at 30-all, before an emphatic dunk plus free throw by Bankston sent the Spartans into the locker room up 33-30.
NSU was able to keep the Tigers at arm's length most of the second half. NSU hit six of its first seven shots from the floor in the period. GSU closed within one point twice in the early going, but Joe Bryant Jr. and Jenkins hit 3-pointers both times to extend NSU's edge.
The Tigers finally forged a tie at 52-all on a layup by A.J. Taylor, who had team highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds. But the Spartans countered with a 10-2 run to open their largest lead of the game. Both Bankston and Cahiem Brown converted traditional three-point plays in the run, while Jalen Hawkins and Bryant added layups – the latter of which put NSU up 62-54 with 7:37 to go.
The Tigers could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
"We knew coming in here that the competition was going to be tough," said NSU head coach Robert Jones, who won his 150th game as Spartan coach on Monday. "I give respect to our guys for answering the bell and going 2-0 here. I told guys to treat today like a championship. We wanted to give up good looks to get great looks and get the best possible shot. That's something we preach a lot in practice."
For the game, NSU shot 49 percent from the floor while holding the Tigers to 32 percent accuracy. Jenkins added 12 points, six rebounds and two assists off the Spartan bench. Both Hawkins and Bryant scored nine points apiece. Christian Ings led the squad with five assists.
NSU continues its current road trip with a 7 p.m. game Wednesday at UNC Wilmington.