Courtesy of Alex Lehmbeck, Asst. SID, Norfolk State Athletics
Coppin St. 9-23,4-10 MEAC
Winner Norfolk St. 21-10,9-5 MEAC
NORFOLK, Va. – Norfolk State (21-10, 9-5 MEAC) zoomed past Coppin State 73-56 with a dominant second half on Thursday night in the MEAC Tournament quarterfinal round, moving on to Friday’s semifinal action.
Joe Bryant Jr. paved the way to victory, scoring 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. Kris Bankston added 13 points and 11 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season. As a pair, Bryant and Bankston combined to shoot 12-of-12 from the free throw line.
Tyrese Jenkins got the Spartans on the board first, knocking down a deep 3-pointer after Bankston kept the possession alive with an offensive rebound. Jenkins made multiple key plays in the first half, including an acrobatic layup with a foul that got the Spartan bench on its feet.
Fresh off winning his second consecutive MEAC Player of the Year award, Bryant made a pair of baskets early to get the Spartans moving, one at the rim and another just inside the 3-point line.
After Nyzaiah Chambers converted a tip-in to put NSU ahead by two, Coppin State’s Kam’Ron Blue knocked down a 3-pointer, shifting the momentum back the Eagles’ way. CSU went up by as much as seven by stringing together multiple fast break scores, before Bryant halted the run with a crucial mid-range pull up.
Two baskets from sophomore forward Jack Doumbia helped the Spartans regain their footing, before Kris Bankston drained a pair of free throws to close the half. The gap had been tightened to one, with Coppin State take a 24-23 advantage into the break.
Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones had a simple, but clear message for his team in the locker room.
“I told them let’s settle down, and go get win No. 21,” Jones recalled after the win.
The Spartans did just that, outscoring CSU 50-32 in the second half to leave Scope Arena with a commanding victory.
Doumbia continued to provide a spark off the bench, scoring an early bucket and hustling for loose balls. Playing the first MEAC Tournament game of his career, he’d finish the night with 11 points on a 4-of-5 mark from the field.
But it was Bryant, the man with the most proven MEAC Tournament resume, that would lead the Spartans in crunch time once again.
The fifth-year senior knocked down a mid-range jumper to trim the deficit to three, before scoring at the rim on NSU’s next trip down the floor. Dana Tate Jr. knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Spartans their first lead since the first half, and Bryant drained another long ball just a few moments later.
Terrance Jones got in on the hot streak with a mid-range jumper, before Bryant expanded the lead to double-digits with an and-one hook shot in the paint.
As the Spartans found their stride offensively, they continued to clamp down on the other end of the floor. The Eagles recorded nine turnovers and just five assists in the second half, shooting 9-of-28 from the floor (32. 1 percent).
Bankston and Tate shut the door emphatically in the closing minutes, both providing highlight-reel dunks. Bankston’s came first, a one-handed alley oop slam, before Tate soared over a defender with two hands on the fast break before the crowd could catch its breath.
The Spartans return to the Norfolk Scope Arena at 8 p.m. on Friday, battling North Carolina Central (18-11, 10-4 MEAC) for a spot in the MEAC Tournament Championship. The teams split the regular season series, each defending their respective home courts.
Next Game: vs.  North Carolina Central 3/10/2023 | 8 p.m. WNSB 91.1 FM