DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The NCAA Tournament is just over six weeks away, which means it’s now crunch time for all 351 teams in the country.
Conference play is halfway done for most leagues across the NCAA, and while several teams seem to have a firm grasp on top spot, there are a plethora of teams who are still within striking distance in their respective leagues. The level of parity in league play this season has been at an all-time high, which will lead to an exciting finish in almost every conference.
Monday pits two teams who are still in the hunt for the MEAC title against one another, as the Norfolk State Spartans visit the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in Daytona Beach, FL. It marks the second of two meetings between the programs in a span of just 10 days. With both teams within 2.5 games of first place coming into Monday’s match-up, a win would go a long way for either team.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Monday’s MEAC tilt between Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman.
Last Time Out
In their last outing, the Spartans looked to extend their winning streak to three games against the Morgan State Bears, who were the preseason favourites in the MEAC. Norfolk State pulled away early in the first half, and never trailed in the second frame to come away with the 76-65 win, extending their winning streak to three games in the process.
As a team, the Spartans shot 51% from the floor and 55.6% from three point range in the win.
Sophomore guard Steven Whitley scored a career-high 20 points in the win, while fellow guard Nic Thomas added 20 points of his own off the bench. Derrik Jamerson Jr. chipped in with 14 points to round out the trio of Spartans in double figures.
As for the Wildcats, they were looking to end a two game slide that began at the hands of the Spartans back on January 27th. Bethune-Cookman welcomed the Coppin State Eagles to town in the first of four straight home games in MEAC play. Behind a balanced offensive attack, one that saw seven players record at least two points, Bethune-Cookman cruised to the 80-60 win over the Eagles.
The 20-point victory was the largest for the Wildcats against a Division I opponent all season.
Forwards Soufiyane Diakite and Shawntrez Davis carried the load for the Wildcats, as each posted a double-double in the win. Davis finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Diakite added 10 points and 15 rebounds. Guard Isaiah Bailey continued to stuff the stat sheet, posting 22 points, seven assists, and four rebounds to help the Wildcats end their modest two game skid.
Norfolk State and Bethune-Cookman took to the court against one another just 10 days ago. The Spartans welcomed the Wildcats to town back on January 27th, 2018, in the first of two meetings between the teams. While Bethune-Cookman came into the day on a six game winning streak, winning on the road in conference play is no easy task. Thanks to a last-second layup, the Spartans put an end to the winning streak with a 71-70 win over the Wildcats.
Steven Whitley beat the buzzer with a layup to give the Spartans the one-point victory. He finished with 12 points and two rebounds off the bench. Alex Long had 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to lead the Spartans, while the pair of Kyle Williams and Derrik Jamerson Jr. had 13 points apiece.
For the Wildcats, both Shawntrez Davis and Brandon Tabb finished the day with 18 points in the loss. Soufiyane Diakite put together another impressive performance on both ends of the floor, finishing with 11 points and 17 rebounds, 15 of which came on the defensive glass.
Players to Watch
– 10.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.9 apg; 54.9% FG, 54.8% FT in 22 games.
– Long recorded a career-high 17 rebounds against Bethune-Cookman in their last meeting.
– Since his performance against the Wildcats, Long has been held to just six points in each of his last two games (both wins for the Spartans).
– 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.8 spg; 41.9% FG, 32.8% 3PT in 23 games.
– Whitley has three straight games in double figures (15/23 games with double figures), and he leads the team in both scoring and assists.
– In the absence of Zaynah Robinson, the Spartans have found a star in Whitley, who is only a sophomore.
– 15.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.0 apg; 43.2% FG, 78.2% FT in 22 games.
– Bailey is second on the team in both scoring and assists per game, while he leads the Wildcats with an average of 31.3 minutes per game.
– He has reached double digit points in 20 of his 22 games this season, including 14 straight. (Bailey has five 20+ scoring games).
– 10.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.9 bpg; 57.1% FG in 23 games.
– Diakite, in his first season with the Wildcats, is one of five players for Bethune-Cookman to average double digit points per game this season.
– He has three straight double-doubles, and has seven such performances over his last eight games.
The last time the Spartans and Wildcats met on the hardwood, it was Norfolk State who put an end to the six game winning streak for Bethune-Cookman. Now, with the Spartans on a winning streak of their own, you can bet that the Wildcats want to get some revenge for their loss just 10 days ago.
Both teams are in the top half of the MEAC standings, and are within striking distance of the Savannah State Tigers atop the league. A win for either team would help their case as conference play continues to unfold.
From the start of conference play, the Wildcats have been among the league’s best teams. On Monday night, inside the historic Moore Gymnasium, Bethune-Cookman will earn a series split with the Spartans and keep pace with the leaders in the conference. It will be another close game, but look for Bethune-Cookman to come out on the winning side this time around.
Bethune-Cookman – 78
Norfolk State – 73
– T. Bennett