This year’s MEAC Tournament was a different scenario for Hampton, but ultimately had the same result.
Hampton (21-10) beat South Carolina State 81-69 in the MEAC Championship Game at the Norfolk Scope Arena on Saturday, winning its second-straight title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Guard Brian Darden scored a team-high 22 points, while Reggie Johnson scored 21 points en route to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
South Carolina State, the third seed in the tournament, led by as many as nine in the second half before Hampton came back with a fury and made it a game. The game was tied at 65 as late as 5:25 left in the second half, but Hampton finished the game on a 16-4 run to
This tournament —the entire season— was different from the previous one because Hampton had a target on its back from start to finish. It was predicted to finish first, and did in both the regular season and the tournament.
“I feel like this year is more special because last year we kind of snuck up on people,
Johnson said after the game. “This year we were number one and its kinda of hard to be at the top and stay at the top.”
Hampton coach Ed Joyner Jr. agreed that what he and his team accomplished was a tough task.
“We all human, we’ve all got Sportscenter. How many number ones have failed already? Joyner said. “I think that the way a lot of one seeds are going down in their tournament, for these guys to remain focused and be able to do what they did…hats off to them.”
Joyner and Johnson are right—what Hampton accomplished this season was no easy feat. Last season’s team was an afterthought when the tournament began, as it looked like North Carolina Central would claim back-to-back titles. It didn’t happen for NCCU, but Hampton was able to keep the rest of the MEAC chasing it to the finish line.
Seeing this team gel together last season, and solidify this season, has been fun. They are an experienced, poised team. The kind that could be ripe to pull off an upset in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.