NORFOLK, Va. — Once again, the Norfolk State Spartans are in contention for the MEAC title, and they are one of the hottest teams in the country that nobody is talking about.
The Spartans burst onto the national scene back during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when they knocked off the 2-seed Missouri Tigers in the Round of 64 as a 15-seed themselves. While they would fall in the next round, the Spartans garnered national attention that was well deserved.
Fast forward to 2017, and the Spartans are once again trending upwards in the MEAC. On Saturday, they put their seven game winning streak on the line when they welcomed the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks to Norfolk, VA.
It was the only meeting between the two this season, and the Spartans were looking to keep on the right track, while the Hawks were looking to move up in the MEAC standings.
Early on, the Hawks took control, leading by as many as 16 points late in the first half. They held a slim two-point lead with under four minutes to play in the game, but the Spartans completed their comeback shortly thereafter.
Thanks to a 21-point, 11-rebound performance from Jonathan Wade, the Spartans clawed their way back in the second half and extended their winning streak to eight with a 75-69 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
With 3:43 to play in the first half, a pair of free throws from Isaac Taylor gave the Hawks a 32-16 lead, which was their biggest of the game. Despite falling behind early, the Spartans carried momentum with them into halftime, and built on it in the second half.
Norfolk State went on a 33-12 run that took the wind out of the sails of the Hawks for the time being, and put the Spartans ahead by five, at 49-44. Bryan Gellineau hit one of two free throws at the 13:00 mark of the second to give the Spartans the five-point advantage.
Now, with their backs against the wall, it was the Hawks’ turn to showcase their strength when times are tough.
With under four minutes to play, Maryland-Eastern Shore took a slim two-point lead, thanks to a layup from Derrico Peck. With the end of the game in their sights, the Hawks were looking to score a big road win and put an end to the Spartans’ winning streak in the process.
The home side had other plans, and were able to retake the lead shortly thereafter. Three free throws from Alex Long in a span of 23 seconds gave the Spartans a three-point lead, and they wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.
Timely free throw shooting sealed the deal for Norfolk State, as they notched their eighth straight victory with the 75-69 decision over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Bakari Copeland led the way for the Hawks, scoring a game-high 22 points and pulling down 5 rebounds in the loss. He also hit five jumpers from three point range.
Freshman forward Tyler Jones chipped in with 14 points and 7 rebounds off the bench.
Jonathan Wade came into the game as the leading scorer in the MEAC, averaging 19.6 points per game. His talents were on full display on Saturday, as he scored a team-high 21 points to go along with 11 rebounds for the double-double.
Kerwin Okoro added 15 points, while Zaynah Robinson chipped in with 10 points and 7 assists.
The Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (8-17, 5-5) return to the court on Monday night when they take on the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats at home in Princess Anne, MD.
On Wednesday night, the Norfolk State Spartans (12-13, 9-2) will go for their ninth-straight win when face off against the South Carolina State Bulldogs.
– T. Bennett