By Kingsley Hunter
Norfolk State University’s men’s basketball team returned to the court to defend their back-to-back MEAC conference titles and tipped-off its 2022-2023 campaign against Virginia University of Lynchburg in-house in a dominant 109-59 victory.
Veteran guard Joe Bryant Jr. tallied 13 points, forward Daryl Anderson scored 14 points and newcomer guard George Beale Jr. tallied a double-double garnering 18 points and 14 rebounds in the 50-point blowout.
The Spartan men’s hoopers are fresh off their third NCAA Division I tournament berth in school history after they suffered a defeat at the hands of the Baylor Bears in the first round last March. The men’s basketball team appeared in the annual tournament in 2012, 2021, and 2022, respectively.
In the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the Spartans were bested by the #1 seed Gonzaga in the first round, who later was beaten in the national championship game against Baylor.
Out of the three tournament appearances, the Spartans went their farthest in 2012 when they made history by defeating No.2 seed Missouri as a No. 15 seed. It was only the fifth time in tournament history a #2 seed was defeated by a 15th seed, and it is also recognized as the most monumental win in Norfolk State Basketball history. The 2012 team eventually went on to the round of 32 and lost to Florida, who eventually fell in the elite eight to Louisville.
The historic 2012 team was led by former NBA Forward Kyle O’ Quinn, who was selected as the 49th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic.
The 2021 and 2022 team(s) have been led by guard Joe Bryant Jr., who is the reigning MEAC Player of the Year (2022) and MEAC conference tournament MVP. (2021-2022), Bryant earned the award twice consecutively – An achievement that has not been reached since North Carolina A&T guard Phillip Allen won it back-to-back in 1994 and 1995.
Bryant Jr. had a remarkable season last year, averaging 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 43 percent from the field. He garnered the most total points out of any player in the MEAC (519) and shot 91.5 percent from the free-throw line.
He aims to lead the team to a third consecutive NCAA Division I tournament appearance, which has yet to be done in school history. Should the Spartans accomplish that feat, they will then join North Carolina A&T (1977-1979 and 1982-1988), and North Carolina Central (2017-2019) as the only schools in the MEAC to win the MEAC tournament three or more years in a row.
Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones dribbles into his 10th season at the helm as he currently holds an overall record of 166-126(.568). Jones served as the assistant coach (2007-2013) before taking over during the 2013 season.
During his tenure with the green and gold, he’s clinched two MEAC tournament titles (2021 and 2022) and won two MEAC regular season titles in 2019 and 2022, respectively. He has been named MEAC coach of the year twice in 2019 and 2022.
Jones is the only coach to win MEAC coach of the year twice at Norfolk State University. Divergent to the previous head coach Anthony Evans’s win in 2012, Jones valorously accomplished the feat twice. Out of the dozen head coaches the Norfolk State basketball team has had in its history, coach Robert jones has secured the most appearances in the NCAA tourney while winning the MEAC more times than any other Norfolk State head coach.
The Spartans have had a great deal of success in the dynamic duo of Jones and Bryant Jr., as they’ve catapulted Norfolk State to mainstream attention.
The Spartan hoopers have multiple primetime games looming as they look to vindicate their 2022 NCAA tournament loss when they travel to Baylor on November 11th. Following that game, they will trailblaze to palm trees and sunshine and challenge the UCLA Bruins on the 14th.
The Spartans have a total of eight matchups that will be showcased on ESPN platforms throughout the season. The oppositions for these games are Baylor (Nov 11th), UCLA (Nov 14th), Houston (Nov.29th), Hampton (Dec 17th), North Carolina A&T (Dec 18th), Morgan State (Jan 23rd), North Carolina Central (Jan 30th), and Howard (March 2nd).
Three of their competitors are in the coaches’ preseason top eleven (No. 9 Baylor, No. 11 UCLA, and No. 7 Houston).
The men’s basketball team and its legion of fans have high expectations for this season, as the group looks to conquer the MEAC title once more, and garner yet another record-breaking season.