NORFOLK, Va. – Down by 14 in the first half on national television, the Norfolk State men’s basketball team had no plans of letting one slip away on Senior Night. A big second half, including a 17-2 run coming out of the locker room, pushed the Spartans past Delaware State, 81-71, on Monday night at Joseph Echols Hall.
The Spartans shot better than 57 percent in the second half and outscored DSU by 15 after halftime. The Hornets got to within three with less than eight minutes to go, but the Spartans held on to send their six recognized seniors to a victory in the last home game of the year.
NSU had to overcome a big first half by DSU’s Amere May, who scored 20 points in the first 20 minutes of the game. The MEAC’s leading scorer only had six in the second half, part of a greater defensive effort by the Spartans that limited to Hornets to 35 percent shooting in the second stanza.
The victory pushed NSU’s conference record to 11-3 and its overall record to 18-11. By virtue of the win over the Hornets, the Spartans guaranteed themselves a first-round bye in the MEAC tournament in two weeks and at worst a No. 4 seed. NSU needs one more win in its last two games to earn the conference’s No. 2 seed.
In a battle of the league’s top two scorers, May finished with 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting, while junior Jeff Short tallied 25 points on 8-of-14 field goals. He also shot a perfect 8-of-8 effort from the free throw line with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
After May did most of his damage in the first half, Short did the same in the second, posting 17 points after intermission. He also reached the 20-point plateau for the first time in seven games.
A crowd of 2,152 and an even larger audience on ESPNU – the first home game on TV for NSU in four years – saw the Spartans chip away late in the first half. They outscored the Hornets 20-11 over the last part of the half, and then came out on fire in the second.
A thunderous dunk by junior D’Shon Taylor to start the second half ignited the Spartans after intermission. They tallied the first 10 points of the second stanza and eventually outscored the Hornets 17-2 over a seven-minute span. Six different players scored at least two points during that spurt.
Down 47-37 at that point, DSU (13-15, 7-6 MEAC) got a pair of 3-pointers from Kavon Waller and Kendal Williams to shrink the Spartan lead to just four. Three minutes later, Taylor completed a 3-point play to make it 55-46 at the 8:48 mark. But again, the Hornets did not go away.
Two more treys, this time by Tyshawn Bell and Aric Dickerson, cut the Spartan advantage to just three. Down by that same margin a minute later, the Hornets made just one field goal over the next three and a half minutes. A 3-pointer by May with a little more than three minutes remaining got the Hornets to within six, but nine straight points by Short ended that DSU threat.
DSU sank 11 treys on the night on 30 attempts.
Taylor finished the night with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
In the battle of big men, junior RaShid Gaston posted 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting with 13 rebounds. NSU held Kendall Gray, the second-leading rebounder in the nation, to just seven points and four boards in 24 minutes.
The Spartans needed the big run in the second half after the Hornets did the same in the first. With Delaware State up 6-5 to start the game, May scored seven straight points to start an 18-5 run. DSU stretched its lead to 24-10 after May capped that spurt with a 3-pointer at the 6:23 mark.
NSU got back into the game by scoring seven straight, and Short sank a pair of free throws with 2:16 to go before the half to finish a 12-2 run for the Spartans. That sliced the Hornet lead to just four, 26-22. May had six more points before the half, but NSU outscored DSU by a 20-11 margin over the last 6:18 of the stanza to make it 35-30 going into the break.
DSU hit better than 48 percent before the half but finished 28-of-68 (41.2 percent) for the game. Williams (11), Bell (10) and Waller (10) all finished in double digits.
The Spartans, meanwhile, hit 28-of-54 (51.9 percent) overall. For the second straight game, they also finished with just 12 fouls. NSU enjoyed a big advantage at the line, hitting 20-of-26 from the charity stripe, compared to 4-of-10 for DSU.
The Spartans also had the edge in points in the paint, 38-24, and fastbreak points, 17-8.
NSU will get a week off before playing at Howard next Monday at 7:30 p.m.