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By Lut Williams - BCSP Editor

NORFOLK, VA – The third time was the charm for Norfolk State and eighth-year head coach Robert Jones as they rode 17 points from Most Valuable Player Joe Bryant Jr. and a balanced offensive attack to a 71-63 win over Morgan State Saturday afternoon in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship game here at The Score Arena.meac 50th logo

It is the first tournament title in three tries for NSU and Jones, who lost in both 2017 and 2019 championship games. The title and the NCAA Tournament berth that goes with it is the first for NSU since their initial tourney championship and berth to the Big Dance in 2012 under former head coach Anthony Evans.

"We talk about that special time for Norfolk State all the time," said Jones, who was an assistant on that team. "But we have to make our own history. It's time for us to go out to Indiana (site of the NCAA Tourney) and make some noise again for Norfolk State basketball.

"This kind of solidifies what we're doing as a program," said Jones. "We've been pretty good in the MEAC and pretty good overall, and we just haven't been lucky. We finally got some luck come our way.

"We beat (NC) Central in a revenge game (87-58 in the quarterfinals) after losing to them twice in the championship and then we had the unfortunate luck of North Carolina A&T (the South Division's top seed who had to opt out of semifinal match up with NSU because of a positive COVID test) dropping out.

"So finally, luck was on our side as well as being good, and there's the magic. Now the hat happens," said Jones as he touched the brim of his championship hat.

Playing in his hometown, Bryant, a 6-1 junior guard named to the all-MEAC third team, tallied 13 of his points in the second half as the Spartans (16-7) moved out from a 37-30 halftime lead. They opened the second half on a 12-6 run, 10 by Bryant including seven straight, to boost the lead to 49-36 at the 16:50 mark. A steal and dunk by Nyzaiah Chambers stretched the lead to 56-40 with 13:27 left.

The lead stayed at double-digits until under just over three minutes were left. MSU got closest at 67-61 with :31 seconds to play on a layup by Malik Miller. Two dunks on breakaways by NSU's Kashaun Hicks in the final half-minute sealed it for the Spartans.

"It means a lot to bring back a championship to this city, a city that I love," said Bryant who played at nearby Lake Taylor High School. "It seems like everybody now is feeling HBCUs. We just want to go out (to Indiana), be focused, do what we're supposed to do and try to make it to the Sweet 16, like we've talked about."

Hicks finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds while point guard Devante Carter tallied 12 points and handed out a game-high five assists. It was the fourth victory for the Spartans (16-7) in five match-ups with MSU this season. All five contests were decided by single digits.

NSU held high-scoring guard De'Torrian Ware, who had 35 and 29 points in the first two rounds, to 16 points in the championship game. After canning seven and five 3-pointers in the earlier rounds, he shot just 5 of 15 from the floor and hit on 1 of 8 from behind the arc. Lagio Grantsaan added 13 points for the Bears.
            Informed by a member of the media in the postgame press conference that there are reports that the MEAC champion will be in a play-in game in Indianapolis, Jones said he's not worried.

"The play-in game is just like the first round of the tournament, financially, so who cares, honestly?" said Jones. "Whoever you play, you're going to play an opponent who looks just like you, so you can beat them. And then the stay is longer. So, now you get another unit. The school is happy, you get $3 million or whatever. So, who cares about the play-in game. I'm happy to be there."


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