Norfolk State victorious in game on national TV
Prince Okoroh guarded with extra zeal. Simuel Frazier crossed over with more burst. Alphonso Leary soared higher in the lane.
Making a rare stop at Burr Gymnasium, the cameras of ESPNU brought out the intensity of the Howard basketball team. But halting the momentum of defending MEAC champion Norfolk State was too daunting a task Monday night.
If any team in the MEAC is comfortable under bright lights, it's the Spartans. Last year Norfolk State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, toppling second-seeded Missouri. So when the Bison made a run at them in the second half, the Spartans' veterans calmly responded.
With junior Pendarvis Williams swishing a 3-pointer and senior Rob Johnson driving the baseline for a three-point-play, Norfolk State pulled away late to win its 11th straight game against MEAC competition 54-49 before a festive crowd of 1,024 in Northwest.
Norfolk State (9-10, 4-0) graduated five of its top seven scorers from last year's 26-10 team. But the two who remain provided the critical shots after Howard pulled to within six points with nine minutes left. Williams (17 points, five rebounds), a 6-foot-6 guard, finished 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Johnson (12 points), a 6-8 forward, was clutch when it mattered, scoring eight points in the final five minutes.
"No. 1 team in the conference. That's a real tough team," Howard senior Tre Lee said.
Norfolk State bolted to a 15-4 lead as Williams and Brandon Goode (12 points) had back-to-back dunks. But Howard (4-14, 1-3) rallied behind Lee (13 points, six rebounds), who hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 18-16. But it would be as close as Howard would come.
In the second half, Okoroh (15 points, six steals) kept the Bison close with his scrappy work. But in the end, Norfolk State had too much veteran leadership, experience on national TV and depth.
"At one point Prince said, 'Coach, I need two minutes.' I said, 'If I give you two minutes, we may be down 10. You gotta stay in the game,'?" Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said. "I'm proud of my guys, proud of the effort."