Game #9-150: Norfolk State at South Carolina State BulldogsDecember 3, 2012 7:30 pm
SHM Memorial Center
During the fundraising drive for this website back in October, Kyle retweeted a tweet from TMMer Craig Caswell
: "I knew Norfolk State before they were cool. Join the @ for #TMM9". And as somebody who was watched MEAC basketball in person the past few years that was a tweet I could relate to. This was especially true for me since I had gone to the 2012 MEAC Championship in Winston-Salem
. There I saw Kyle O'Quinn play a great game to lead the Spartans in a must win game. O'Quinn received a flagrant foul in that game he was nearly ejected for. And it was a good thing for Norfolk State, as O'Quinn was needed to help Norfolk State edge out Bethune-Cookman to advance to the NCAA Tournament. And that was when O'Quinn and his Norfolk State Spartans became cool by beating 2 seed Missouri. Had Norfolk State been upset in that game I was at, they never would have become "cool". So I definitely knew them before they were.
I remember where I was that day when Norfolk State did become cool. I had just finished my season of 800GP games with a CIT game the day before at USC Upstate
, and was celebrating by having dinner with my parents at Applebee's. On the television at Applebee's was CBS, and I was able to follow what was going on by looking at a TV with no sound. They were mostly not showing the Norfolk State game, but I knew it was close and usually Norfolk State was winning. Because the TV was not always reliable, I also checked on the Norfolk score on my Android. My mom could see that Norfolk State had the shot at an upset, and she kept asking me for updates. I was nervous to tell her that the Spartans were winning, as I had this bad feeling that we were ultimately headed for an ARRRGH! game. When I got home, rather than turning on the TV right away I decided to go for a walk. I still had not yet written the recap for that MEAC final, and was anxious at how it would turn out for its champion. To have a team I had seen go on to get a 15 over 2 upset would be special. I kept walking, and kept checking my Android for updates. Norfolk State from looking at the live play-by-play did not seem to be playing smart, fouling Missouri and not always taking care of the ball while protecting a lead. Finally, I saw a final score: "Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84". I then shouted out "Behold the Green... and Gold!" The only thing I could think about was that I had just recently been sitting near the Norfolk State pep band and students when they were celebrating their first NCAA Tournament berth. I knew how big this win was for them.
But as is often the case for MEAC teams that finally hit it big, Norfolk State comes in to this season with last season's big success in the past. They are once again just another team in the MEAC, less than nine months after becoming a household name. O'Quinn graduated and now plays for the Orlando Magic, scoring 22 points so far in the NBA coming deep off the bench. The Spartans came into tonight's game in at S.C. State with a 4-5 record, with a 16 point loss at home to Loyola of Maryland and needing a big rally to win at Savannah State two days prior to this game. Norfolk State returns some players from last year's team, but lost the core group that guided the Spartans to glory. Norfolk State had reached prominence the year before, but now once again had to find a new path to reach glory again.
South Carolina State on the other hand is also seeking glory. In the Bulldogs' case, any
glory will do. Including conference tournament games, SCSU came in having lost its last 18 games against MEAC opponents. Their last win against a MEAC team was in the 2011 MEAC Tournament first round against Delaware State. The Bulldogs still do not have a lot of great chances to end that streak this year, even with better play recently. SC State does not play a struggling UMES team at all this season, and the Bulldogs also do not get to face Howard at home this season. And this all comes in the midst of a budget crisis resulting from an enrollment drop
where they have been rumors circulated that S.C. State might consider dropping to Division II as a result, although it is also possible that SCSU is trying to work with the MEAC to reduce travel costs. The big problem with the financial issues at South Carolina State from the basketball program's point of view is that SCSU has become a football school. It's a shame considering that the Bulldogs actually have a fairly decent tradition of basketball in the MEAC, but have not found success since previous coach Cy Alexander left for Tennessee State (Alexander is now at SCSU rival North Carolina A&T). While there is little community support in Orangeburg for basketball, there is a large following from the student body for the basketball team and I wish that they could get a better basketball team to root for.
As always with a MEAC conference game, there would be a women's game before it. The SCSU women have struggled in recent years, although nowhere near as much as their male counterparts. But in a sloppy first half, the Bulldog women got off to an 18 point lead at halftime. The second half would be a different story, aside from that it was also very sloppily played. Norfolk State would rally to force overtime, and I just wanted the game to finish so we could move on to what would likely be a better played men's game. Like with the SC State men the previous week against Jacksonville
, the women would come through after losing a big lead and edged out Norfolk State 62-59 in overtime.
My expectation was that while Norfolk State was not last year's team, they should still be good enough to beat S.C. State. But the Bulldogs started well, and most of the first half was fairly evenly played. The Spartans mostly tried to get their points down low, and the Bulldogs would not allow any easy points. But as is often the case, eventually Norfolk State was able to set up good looks from outside and knock down jumpers. With this and better depth off the bench than what SC State had, Norfolk would pull away late in the first half to lead by 12 at halftime.
But the Bulldogs were not ready to go away yet. The S.C. State students were in full force for a conference game, and were as energetic as ever. As Matt Cayuela noted recently
, you often do not get enthusiastic crowds at HBCUs consistently. Atmosphere seems to vary, but the Bulldog students are usually more apt to be ready to party on weekdays after class. And there are certain points in the game that usually lead to more crowd participation, such as at the end of halftime as the band plays "Pass the Peas" to lead into the second half (I tried to get some of the choreographed dancing here
). Often the crowd at SC State leaves after this point and sees little of the second half. But that would not be the case here as SCSU reached in vain at a comeback. The Spartans got themselves in foul trouble and SCSU hit their shots to keep the game from getting out of hand. A late Bulldog rally led to a long last few minutes of the game, as SC State kept fouling to keep testing Norfolk. But Norfolk State did just well enough on their free throws late to prevent a wild comeback like in the last game here, winning 78-72.
South Carolina State fell short again of glory, losing their 19th straight MEAC game. They have had close calls like last season against Florida A&M where they lost on a last second shot
. They are not as bad as you would expect with a team that can't win in the MEAC, and have four out of conference games against Division I teams between this season so far and last. But they can't quite get it done against MEAC teams for some reason. Here's hoping that S.C. State will find out at least a little piece of MEAC glory later this season. And I also hope that Norfolk State can still hold on to some of their recently obtained glory, because we can always use more successful mid-majors. NORFOLK STATE 78, at SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 72
NORFOLK STATE 5-5 (2-0) -- M. Hawkins 6-12 7-10 21; R. Johnson 6-14 6-9 20; K. Brown 2-3 0-1 5; B. Goode 6-8 4-5 16; P. Williams 1-6 2-2 4; J. Fuentes 1-3 1-3 3; R. Gaston 1-3 1-2 3; K. Lila-St. Rose 1-3 0-0 3; A. Rogers 0-1 0-0 0; J. Weathers 1-2 1-1 3; Z. Estime 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 22-33 78.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 4-4 (0-1) -- D. Palmer 8-19 1-2 19; A. Adams 3-10 3-5 10; K. Toombs 3-6 6-8 12; P. Myers 2-6 4-5 9; M. Hezekiah 3-6 1-1 7; S. Mitchell 3-11 0-2 7; C. Campbell 1-7 2-2 4; L. Radovic 1-1 2-2 4; D. Youmans 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-67 19-27 72.
Three-point goals: NORF 6-17 (M. Hawkins 2-5; R. Johnson 2-4; K. Brown 1-2; P. Williams 0-3; J. Weathers 0-1; K. Lila-St. Rose 1-2), SCST 5-19 (K. Toombs 0-1; A. Adams 1-4; C. Campbell 0-3; S. Mitchell 1-3; P. Myers 1-3; D. Palmer 2-5); Rebounds: NORF 40 (R. Gaston 9), SCST 35 (D. Palmer 11); Assists: NORF 13 (K. Brown 3), SCST 11 (K. Toombs 5); Total Fouls -- NORF 18, SCST 24; Fouled Out: NORF-None; SCST-K. Toombs.