NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — For the third straight season, a college basketball team from Hampton Roads had to watch as North Carolina Central danced and celebrated under falling confetti.
Norfolk State, who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular season title for just the second time in school history, fell just short of an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, losing to the Eagles (18-15) in the championship game 50-47.
“That was a tough locker room to be in just now,” said NSU Head Coach Robert Jones. “These kids worked so hard all year, and really wanted that championship.”
Zacarry Douglas scored all 10 of his points during a 25-6 second-half run, and led the Eagles to their third straight tournament title.
The Eagles earned another trip to the NCAA Tournament despite missing nine of their last 10 shots and not scoring for the final 4:03.
Mastadi Pitt scored 14 points and C.J. Kelly 13 for Norfolk State (21-13). The Spartans had a last chance to tie, but after taking a timeout with 8.8 seconds left, they had to settle for a heavily contested desperation heave by Pitt at the buzzer.
The Spartans closed the first half on a 20-8 run and led 32-22 at the break. It was 34-22 after Alex Long’s jumper to open second-half scoring, but Jordan Perkins’ 3-pointer started the 25-6 spurt. Perkins had seven points in the run that gave the Eagles a 47-38 lead with 8:18 to play.
The Spartans trailed 50-42 after Jibri Blount’s basket for the Eagles with 4:03 left, but got only a driving basket by Steven Whitley and three free throws by Jordan Butler the rest of the way as they missed seven of their last eight shots.
N.C. Central: The Eagles turned over the ball 17 times, but it led to just 13 points for Norfolk State. The Eagles also won the rebounding battle 41-29 with Raasean Davis grabbing 14 and Douglas 12.
Norfolk State: Scoring leader Nic Thomas (14.9 points per game) was scoreless, missing all five of his shots from the field.
N.C. Central: will await its NCAA Tournament destination.
Norfolk State: will play in the NIT as league regular-season champions.