INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (NSUSpartans.com) - Riding high after extending its winning streak to seven with a First Four win, the No. 16 seed Norfolk State men's basketball team will face overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tip-off is set for 9:20 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament First Round.
The Spartans are coming off a First Four win over Appalachian State on Thursday, a game in which they nearly let a 19-point first half lead slip away. That marked NSU's second NCAA Tournament win in its two tournament appearances in its Division I history.
This will mark the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Gonzaga at a Glance
The Bulldogs have dominated this season, winning all 26 games on the year while averaging 92 points per game with a +23 scoring margin. All-Americans Corey Kispert (19.2 points, 4.9 rebounds), Drew Timme (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Jalen Suggs (14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals) lead the way for Gonzaga, which also holds a +7.3 edge on the glass for the season. Joel Ayayi (11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Andrew Nembhard (9.2 points, 4.2 assists) are two more names to watch out for on offense.
Spartans vs. Ranked Teams
NSU has not faced a ranked team since taking on No. 19/18 Michigan to start the 2018-19 season, a 63-44 loss in Ann Arbor. The contest against Gonzaga will mark the 21st all-time meeting for NSU against ranked opponents since moving to Division I in 1997. The Spartans are 1-19 in those previous 20 games, with the one win coming against No. 3/3 Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Last Time Out
Norfolk State led by as much as 19 in the first half and trailed by six in the second, but the Spartans pulled out a 54-53 win over Appalachian State on Thursday evening at Assembly Hall in the NCAA Tournament First Four. Devante Carter sank two free throws with 8.6 seconds to go as NSU overcame a sluggish second half in which it shot just 26 percent. The Spartans held ASU to 19 percent shooting in the first half, including 0-of-18 from deep. Jalen Hawkins, meanwhile, had 20 first-half points and a career-high 24 for the game, knocking down four 3-pointers along the way. The Mountaineers shot just 26 percent for the game but held a 46-35 edge on the glass with 10 blocks.
NSU's win on Thursday marked its second NCAA Tournament win. The most famous of course came 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. This year is NSU's second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans are 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). The Spartans knocked off No. 1 seed Alabama in 2019, 80-79 in overtime, a victory considered the biggest in NIT history by point spread.
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 the last 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.
• Appalachian State's 19.4 percentage in the first half (6-of-31 shooting) marked the worst by an NSU opponent in a half since Morgan State made 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) in the first half on Feb. 15, 2021. ASU's overall shooting percentage of 25.8 marked the lowest by another D-I opponent against NSU since Coppin State shot just 22 percent (13-of-59) on March 2, 2019. NSU's 18 second-half points were the fewest in a half for the Spartans since scoring 17 in the first half on Dec. 29, 2019 at Stony Brook.
• 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.
• Norfolk State now sits 17th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (39.7), 39th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.7), 40th in turnovers forced (15.54), and 46th in the nation in turnover margin (+2.6). They rank first in the MEAC in field goal percentage defense, scoring defense (68.5), and defensive rebound percentage (71.1), second in rebounding (36.9), rebound margin (+0.3), turnover margin (+2.58) and scoring margin (+5.8), and third in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.7), opponent rebounding (36.5) and defensive rebounds (26.5).
• NSU currently stands 44th in the nation and first in the MEAC in 3-point shooting at 36.9 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 (27-of-61, 44.3%), Kashaun Hicks (35-of-91, 38.5%), and Joe Bryant Jr. (36-of-93, 38.7%. Anderson ranks first in the MEAC in 3-point shooting. On offense, the Spartans are also second in the MEAC in scoring offense (74.3), and third in offensive rebound percentage (28.7).
• The team is now at 74.3 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 (+2.58) and scoring margin (+5.8), second in winning percentage (70.8%, 17-7), field goal % defense (39.7), fewest turnovers per game (12.96), and defensive rebounds per game (26.50), and fifth in free throw percentage (70.8).
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, with Gonzaga No. 1 at 92.3 percent.
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.
NSU owns a current 189-140 overall record since the start of the 2011-12 season, second in the conference to North Carolina Central (190-120).
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.