NORFOLK, Va. – The first game between the Old Dominion and Norfolk State basketball teams in seven years at Chartway Arena had a big-time feel and atmosphere.
The near-sellout crowd of 7,966 was electric and the largest at Chartway Arena in four seasons.
And at game’s end, the home team got to celebrate a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory.
Chaunce Jenkins, a sophomore transfer from Wichita State, poured in 23 points, and sophomore guard Imo Essien calmly sank four of four free throws in the final seconds, to lead ODU past Norfolk State, 68-62, Saturday night.
Junior forward Mekhi Long added 13 points and was a ironman, defensive star for the Monarchs in his nearly 37 minutes of playing time.
“Our guys exhibited the kind of fight that you want to see,” said ODU coach Jeff Jones. “It was an emotional win, a win against a quality team.”
The game matched players who know each other well and was a physical and emotional matchup, the kind you would expect from schools just 4.1 miles apart. The crowd of 7,966 was the largest at Chartway Arena since Nov. 28, 2018, when 8,172 watched ODU rally past VCU, 62-52.
Norfolk State (5-4) led most of the game, and last led, 53-31, on a driving layup from Joe Bryant with 6:41 left.
The Spartans then went cold, and the Monarchs (5-4) took over.
Jenkins tied the score with a layup, then drilled a three-pointer with 5:42 left to give the Monarchs a 56-53 lead, their first since the opening minutes of the second half.
ODU led, 56-55, when Jenkins made a jump shot, Tyreek Scott-Grayson a three-pointer and Dericko Williams a fast-break layup, with an assist from Williams, to build the lead to 62-55 with 2:17 left.
The Spartans slowly battled back from the free-throw line, and then Caheim Brown made a three-pointer with 23 seconds left that trimmed the ODU lead to two, 64-62.
But Norfolk State was then forced to foul, and although ODU had struggled at the foul line, making just 13 of 26 shots (50 percent), Essien made both shots both times to set off a thunderous ovation from ODU adherents in the crowd.
At game’s end, several ODU players waded into the student section to celebrate the victory.
ODU won the game with its depth – the Monarchs had 28 points off their bench to 13 for the Spartans – and by forcing Norfolk State center Kris Bankston into foul trouble and thus shutting him down in the second half.
The 6-9 senior, heralded as an NBA prospect, dominated the first half, scoring 12 points by making six of seven shots, including three dunks.
Saddled with foul trouble, and hemmed in by ODU’s defense, he did not attempt a shot in the second half. Joe Bryant had 17 points and six assists to lead the Spartans, while Christian Ings had 13 points and seven assists. Brown added 15 points off the bench.
Norfolk State has won two MEAC titles in a row and twice advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and ODU coach Jeff Jones said he thinks the Spartans will win another.
“They’ve got a really good team and they get to play their conference tournament at home (at Scope),” Jones said. “I would think that they’ve got a good shot at winning their conference for a third time, which would be a hack of an accomplishment.”
It was the fifth victory in a row for ODU against Norfolk State, which leads the series, 15-6.
The rivalry began in 1965 with an 86-82 ODU victory at Rockwell Hall on the old Little Creek Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach. The teams were regular rivals through 1981, but have met just six times in the last 30 years.
Norfolk State was dominant early on and for a while, threatened to break the game open.
Norfolk State got three-point shots from the veteran senior Bryant and Brown, and then a breakway dunk shot from Bankston, to take a 19-10 lead.
Bankston’s dunk drew a loud roar from the sizeable Norfolk State contingent and forced Jones to call a timeout try and break the Spartans’ momentum.
Brown had a breakaway, one-handed layup in traffic with 11:35 left that built the lead to 10, 21-11.
The lead was 23-15 when Jason Wade, the junior from Richmond who missed the last two seasons with injuries, was inserted with 10:09 left. Wade had played just nine minutes in three appearances in three of ODU’s eight previous games.
Physically, Wade no longer has the athleticism he had nearly three years ago, when he was ODU’s best player, before suffering a torn ACL and torn Achilles tendon injuries. But his basketball IQ remains high.
He had an early assist and steal, played great defense and generally calmed the Monarchs down.
“Jason came up with two or three loose balls,” Jones said. “That was our problem. We were missing free throws and they were beating us to 50/50 balls.
“Jason came in and gave us a lift and kind of set the tone for us to at least try to come back because at that point, Norfolk State was definitely in control of the game.”
Spartans coach Robert Jones, however, said his team was not able to finish out the game.
“We had moments where we could have got away and we didn’t get away,” said Norfolk State coach Robert Jones. “And that’s probably the thing that’s most frustrating, because now, no matter where, it’s the battle of Norfolk, (and) it’s not Echols (Hall). You’re in somebody else’s home, so you have to finish the deal, and we didn’t finish the deal.”
ODU has two home games next week – William & Mary on Wednesday at 7 and Gardner-Webb Saturday at 8.
Norfolk State next plays Dec. 10 at William & Mary.