Even while his Norfolk State team suffered through a five-game losing streak during a murderous road stretch earlier this season, coach Anthony Evans told his players not to lose heart.
Better days are ahead, he told them. We’re young and we’re going to win a lot of games.
And that’s exactly what’s happened.
Norfolk State ran out to a big lead, lost it, then rallied to defeat Morgan State 73-71 on Monday night for its fifth victory in a row.
At 11-10, the Spartans have a winning record for the first time this season and remained in first place in the MEAC at 6-0. North Carolina Central, a 71-36 winner over Howard on Monday, is 4-0 in conference play.
Monday’s victory didn’t come without drama.
Norfolk State led by as many as 14, only to watch the Bears score nine unanswered points to take a 57-55 lead with 6:40 to go.
Norfolk State then retook the lead, which Pendarvis Williams built to 71-66 with 25 seconds left.
Morgan State’s Blake Bozeman then made a fallaway 3-pointer, which led to a frenetic final 20 seconds.
NSU’s Jamel Fuentes made one of two foul shots to build the lead back to three.
Morgan’s Justin Black tipped in a missed 3-pointer to cut the lead to 72-71 with six seconds left.
Norfolk State’s Malcolm Hawkins took a long pass and was fouled with a second remaining. He made one of two and the Spartans led 73-71.
Morgan State’s last chance ended when forward DeWayne Jackson stepped out of bounds.
“This was a good victory because this was a playoff like game,” Evans said. “This is what it’s going to be like in the MEAC tournament. There aren’t going to be blowout games. It’s going to be nip and tuck.
“The team that executes the best, the team that gets stops, is usually the team that’s going to win. And we did that tonight.”
Williams overcame a poor shooting start to lead the Spartans with 20 points. Brandon Goode, Norfolk State’s 7-foot center, overcame foul trouble to score 18 points and block three shots.
Rob Johnson scored 17 and Marese Phelps 12 for the Spartans.
The Spartans were without freshman forward Rashid Gaston, suspended for the second game in a row for a violation of team rules. The Spartans didn’t miss Gaston in Saturday night’s victory over Coppin State. But he was missed on the boards Monday.
Morgan State, which used four players 6-8 or taller, outrebounded the Spartans 43-26.
Norfolk State appeared to take control in the first half with red-hot shooting – the Spartans made 17 of 27 shots (63 percent).
Phelps, a point guard who played at Booker T. Washington and Oscar Smith high schools, was moved to shooting guard by Evans and responded by making 5 of 7 shots, including two 3-pointers, to score all 12 of his points in the first half.
The Spartans went stone-cold in the second half, making just 9 of 33 shots. And for fourth time in five games, they nearly blew a double-digit lead.
“It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it,” Williams said. “We gave up another big lead and we’ve got to stop doing that.
“But we’re just happy we got the win.”
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