NORFOLK, Va. (NSUSpartans.com) – Norfolk State bounced back from a slow start to take a fourth-quarter lead against North No. 1 seed Howard, but the Bison used their size on the glass to wear down the Spartans and earn a 50-44 win in the MEAC Tournament semifinals on Friday afternoon at Norfolk Scope Arena.
In a tight defensive battle, Howard grabbed 10 of its 23 offensive rebounds in the decisive fourth quarter and attempted 17 free throws. Despite making just seven shots from the foul line, it was enough to turn back the upset-minded Spartans (5-9), the No. 2 seed from the MEAC South.
Playing with just seven players for the sixth straight game, NSU came out of the gate slowly. The Bison (15-3) scored the first eight points of the game and held the Spartans without a field goal until a layup by Mangela Ngandjui at the 6:07 mark of the first quarter. As it turned out, that would be the only field goal of the opening period for the Spartans, who shot 1-of-17 from the floor in the first 10 minutes.
Despite the slow start, the Spartans stayed close thanks for their sticky defense. The Bison made just 8-of-26 from the floor in the first half. NSU got as close as three in the second quarter after a 3-pointer by E’Lexus Davis capped an 8-1 spurt to start the second stanza. The Bison limited NSU to just one field goal for the remainder of that half after that trey, however, and held a 26-17 lead at the half.
The Spartans made their move in the third quarter. A 14-3 run, capped by two Jalynn Holmes free throws with 1:23 left in the period, tied the score at 33-all.
Trailing by two to start the fourth quarter, NSU took its first lead of the game, 36-35, on a 3-pointer from the right wing by Niya Fields. When Fields connected on a runner in the lane four minutes later, the Spartans trailed by just one, 42-41.
But NSU made just one field goal in the final five minutes. Layups by Anzhane’ Hutton and Krislyn March and three free throws by Iyanna Warren were enough for Howard to pull away in a game where points were at a premium. The Bison advance to Saturday’s championship game against either North Carolina A&T or Morgan State.
“Our first quarter killed us,” NSU head coach Larry Vickers said. “But our defense did a great job today. We threw the kitchen sink at them, switched up defenses a lot. To hold them to 50 points was a good feat.”
Ngandjui paced the Spartans with 10 points and Holmes had nine. Armani Franklin had nine rebounds, Shine Strickland-Gills eight before fouling out, and Ngandjui and Holmes seven boards apiece.
Warren scored a game-high 18 points and added six rebounds and five assists for the Bison. Marsh had 12 rebounds and Hutton 10.
Despite the challenges of a season constantly affected by the pandemic and ending the year with a thin roster, NSU managed a strong finish to the year, with three of its wins coming in the final five games of the season. This marked the third straight year in which NSU advanced to at least the conference semifinals.
“These seven players we finished the year with brought it every game,” Vickers said. “We learned a lot about each other and ourselves. I’m excited to have a real offseason and preseason to get ready for next year.”