Rob Johnson made his last basketball game at Echols Hall one he will long remember.
The 6-foot-8 senior from Roswell, Ga. scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds on senior night as Norfolk State defeated North Carolina A&T, 55-48, and firmly etched itself into the school record books.
Norfolk State became the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team since Coppin State in 1993-94 to finish with an unbeaten conference record. It’s also the first Norfolk State team in 42 years to go unbeaten at home – the Spartans won all 11 home games.
The victory was the 15th in a row for the Spartans (21-10, 16-0 MEAC), who have the nation’s second-longest winning streak. After Louisiana Tech’s loss Thursday night, only Middle Tennessee State, winner of 16 in a row, has won more.
“We wanted to send our seniors out on a great note,” said Pendarvis Williams, the junior guard from Philadelphia who scored 16 points.
“Being part of history, that was a great way to go out.”
Norfolk State opens in the second round of the MEAC tournament on Wednesday at Scope at 6 p.m. against either Bethune-Cookman or Coppin State. Those teams meet on Tuesday in a first-round game.
Norfolk State must win three games in next week’s tournament to repeat as MEAC champions and again advance to the NCAA tournament.
Norfolk State was picked to finish fourth in the conference after losing four starters from the team that won the school’s first league title last season.
Yet Norfolk State has won 21 games in spite of playing a brutal non-conference schedule that had the Spartans on the road for 14 of their first 16 games.
Norfolk State’s upset victory over Missouri in last season’s NCAA tournament meant that the Spartans “had targets on our back all season,” said Kris Brown, a senior guard from Suffolk. “Everybody gave us their best shot this year.”
At one point, Norfolk State lost five in a row.
But the Spartans haven’t lost since a 62-61 defeat at Ball State on Jan. 2 in which the Cardinals made a dunk as the buzzer sounded.
“I’m so proud of this team,” coach Anthony Evans said shortly after his players celebrated at midcourt, while a crowd of 2,794 gave them a standing ovation.
"They’ve been through a lot. It was a tough non-conference schedule for us because we were learning as we went along. There were some bumps, but they learned from every one of them.”
There were some bumps against North Carolina A&T (15-16, 8-8), as Evans started all four seniors – including A.J. Rogers and Quasim Pugh, who rarely play. The seniors played for four minutes before Evans began inserting his usual starters.
Norfolk State seemed out of sync and led at the half, 24-21, on a Johnson 3-pointer.
Norfolk State led by six with 9:54 left when the Spartans put the game away with an 9-0 run.
Johnson finished the run with a 10-foot jump shot and the Spartans led 50-35 with 4:28 left.
Pugh, who scored Norfolk State’s first basket, on a driving layup, and Rogers played the last minute for Norfolk State.
“We started a completely different five than we usually do,” Evans said. “The chemistry wasn’t there in the first half. In the second half we were able to get back into a rhythm.
“A.J., Quasim and Kris have worked hard. It was only right to give them their due. I felt like I owed them that. They deserved it.”
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