NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The loss of scoring and rebounding leader Dwight Meikle to injury five days ago caused Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. to challenge his team. Play together, he told them, and your season can end in the NCAA tournament.
That’s where the Pirates are heading after pulling away late to beat Delaware State 82-61 on Saturday in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. It will be Hampton’s first trip to the tournament since 2011.
“All’s well that ends well,” Joyner said. “For the fourth straight game, we looked like a team.”
Reginald Johnson and Brian Darden scored 20 points each and Deron Powers had 16 for the Pirates, who used a 13-3 spurt to gain some separation and then poured it on down the stretch, scoring 21 of the game’s final 26 points.
The Pirates (16-17), whose semifinal victory Friday night ended about 14 ½ hours before the championship game tipped off, show no signs of fatigue after three games in three days. Instead, they poured it on, scoring 21 of the game’s 26 points.
“I feel like it was just poise,” Powers said. “I felt like in crunch time, we didn’t make as many mistakes.”
Hampton turned the ball over just seven times, forced 17 turnovers and turned them in to 26 points.
Meikle, who averages 13 points and 7.5 rebounds, rolled his right ankle last Monday and never left the bench.
Amere May scored 20 to lead the sixth-seeded Hornets (18-17). Delaware State, seeking its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, eliminated top-seeded and unbeaten North Carolina Central in an earlier game Friday night. But it had no response when the Pirates got 3-pointers from Darden, Powers and Ke’Ron Brown in the initial go-ahead burst.
“They took us out of the rhythm of what we wanted to do and we just didn’t find an answer,” Hornets coach Keith Walker said. “The difference was probably in our guard play, our point guard play. They disrupted us.”
The Hornets were essentially without starting point guard Kendall Williams, who missed the semifinals with an ankle injury. He only played 3 minutes against the Pirates in what Walker said was a bid to energize the team late in the game.
The Pirates led 52-43 after the 3-pointer fueled burst. The Hornets got within 61-56 with 4:38 to play, but then went cold as the Pirates trio of guards took turns padding the margin to the delight of a partisan Hampton crowd.
May, who scored 27 points in the semifinals, had given the Hornets the one-point lead, and scored their next 10 points, but the Pirates countered each basket as Powers scored twice, Darden hit his fourth 3-pointer and Jervon Pressley scored inside to make it 61-51. May’s last points made it 61-56 with 4:38 left, but the Pirates pulled away.
“I thought we did as good a job as you can do on Amere May, especially in the closing moments when he likes to take over,” Joyner said.
The Hornets hit three early 3-pointers and took a 15-6 lead after the first 8 minutes, but Hampton went ahead 21-19 thanks to a 15-4 run in which Johnson scored 11 points in a row for the Pirates. The team then traded baskets for the last 5 minutes of the half and headed for the locker rooms tied at 32.
Hampton: Quinton Chievous had a season-high 23 points and 16 rebounds in the semifinals, but just five points and four rebounds in 24 minutes of the championship.
Delaware State: The Hornets’ Kendall Gray was the league player of the year and defensive player of the year. He leads the nation in rebounding with an average of 12.0, but managed only six points, six rebounds and four blocks in the title game.
The Hornets won both regular season meetings against Hampton, 74-71 at Hampton and 85-75 at home.
Hampton: Awaits its NCAA tournament opponent and destination.
Delaware State: The Hornets hope for a postseason invitation.
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