NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Conference player of the year Joe Bryant Jr. scored 23 points and top-seeded Norfolk State used a closing flourish to finish off Coppin State 72-57 on Saturday to win the Mid-East Athletic Conference tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The conference champions went 12-2 to claim the top tournament seed, and have won at least a share of the regular season title in three of the last four seasons. Coppin State entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed and upset No. 2 seed Howard in its first game then advanced to the title game by knocking off third-seeded North Carolina Central.
Bryant hit three 3-pointers and scored the Spartans’ final 11 points of the first half to bring them back from a 16-13 deficit with under six minutes to play to take a 24-20 lead at intermission. Dana Tate drilled a 3 as Norfolk State started the second half by pushing its lead to double digits, 32-22, in the first two minutes and used a 16-4 run to take a 40-24 lead with 16:30 left after Tate drilled a second 3. The Eagles cut their deficit to eight points midway through the half, but the Spartans quickly pushed their lead back to 15 points. Coppin State got within 10 points on Justin Steers layup with 3:10 left but Norfolk State answered with six straight points and closed out the game with a 9-4 run.
Bryant was 5 of 9 from beyond the arc and Norfolk State (23-6) was 11 of 23 from long range. Jalen Hawkins finished with 17 points and Tate added 13.
Nendah Tarke scored 16 points to lead Coppin State (9-23). Steers added 12 points off the bench and Jesse Zarzuela added 11 points with six assists and five steals.
The tournament was held at Scope Arena, the Spartans’ home court where they were 13-0 this season.
On Saturday, NSU discovered its NCAA Tournament destination and first opponent at during the Selection Show.
Norfolk State is now the No. 16 seed in the East Region and faces top-seeded Baylor in Fort Worth on Thursday.