Courtesy of Norfolk State Athletics
NORFOLK, Va. – Norfolk State (20-9, 9-4 MEAC) heads to the nation’s capital on Thursday night for its regular season finale against the Howard Bison (18-12, 10-3) at Burr Gymnasium, a matchup with colossal conference implications.
Set for a 9 p.m. tip, the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU with Matt Martucci and Malcolm Huckaby on the call. It will also be aired on WNSB Hot 91.1 FM.
What’s at Stake
With one game left on the regular season slate, and the Spartans one game behind Howard in the MEAC standings, Norfolk State still controls its own destiny.
By defeating the Bison on Thursday, Norfolk State would not only earn a share of the conference’s regular season title for a third consecutive season, but also clinch the No. 1 seed for next week’s MEAC Tournament.
With an NSU victory, the top seed would go to the Spartans regardless of the outcomes of the other three MEAC contests on Thursday, with Norfolk State owning tiebreakers over both Howard and North Carolina Central (16-11, 9-4).
NSU would become the first team to win a third consecutive MEAC regular season title since Morgan State achieved the feat in 2010.
Last Time Out
Norfolk State nearly pulled off a historic comeback victory on Monday at McDougald-McLendon Arena, erasing a 29-point second half deficit in a 76-75 overtime loss to North Carolina Central.
Kris Bankston posted a monster double-double, scoring a career-high 29 points while racking up 12 rebounds. Freshman George Beale Jr. helped spark the late surge, scoring 12 points in the second half.
Scouting the Bison
Howard utilizes a balanced offensive attack, with three players averaging double-figure scoring. Elijah Hawkins leads the way with 13.6 points per game, while Steve Settle III anchors the Bison on the glass with 6.0 rebounds per contest.
Last Meeting/All-Time Series
Norfolk State commandingly leads the all-time series against Howard 50-12, winning 11 of the last 13 matchups between the schools.
Howard won the first meeting of the season 86-84 with a pair of technical free throws in the game’s final seconds, after a go-ahead basket by Joe Bryant Jr. in the paint. Bryant finished the day with 23 points, going 11-of-11 from the free throw line.
Bankston Adds to Resume
Norfolk State senior Kris Bankston tallied not one, but two MEAC accolades in a single day, earning MEAC Co-Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week honors on Tuesday afternoon.
The recognition comes after a dominant weekend for the Little Rock, Ark. native, averaging 20.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks across two games.
Tests With the Top
To be the best you have to compete against the best, and the Spartans have done just that this year, facing three teams ranked in the AP Top 10 in a span of one month.
The Spartans battled Baylor in their third matchup of the season (ranked No. 5 at the time), before facing UCLA just two days later (No. 8). NSU played Houston on Nov. 29, the number-one ranked team in the country.
Neutral Site, Bright Lights, No Problem
Norfolk State has played in three regular season multi-team events this year, owning a 4-0 record during those showcase opportunities.
The Spartans defeated Alabama A&M 89-83 at the ATL Has Something to Say HBCU Challenge in Atlanta, Ga., before besting Hampton (78-66) and North Carolina A&T (70-66) at the Boost Mobile HBCU Challenge Hosted by Chris Paul.
The Pirates and Spartans met once again for another Battle of the Bay matchup on Feb. 4 for the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic Hosted by Michael B. Jordan. Norfolk State swept the season series with an 83-71 victory at the Prudential Center in front of nearly 13,500 fans.
NSU has erased a double-digit deficit in a victory 25 times since the start of the 2014-15 season, including in two consecutive matchups this year against William & Mary (Dec. 10) and Bowling Green (Dec. 14).
Protecting the Rock
The Spartans are 12-2 this year when recording more steals than their opponent, and 15-1 when recording fewer turnovers.
Ahead at the Half
The Spartans are 17-3 when ahead at the half this season. Under Jones, NSU has compiled a 139-30 record when leading at the half.
Norfolk State is 15-1 this year when shooting a higher percentage on 3-pointers than its opponent.
NSU in the Polls
Norfolk State entered the 2022-23 campaign ranked No. 20 in College Insider’s Preseason Mid-Major Top-25 poll, after recording the team’s highest-ever finish in the poll in 2021-22 at No. 16.
When the Norfolk State women’s basketball team entered the College Insider Women’s Mid-Major Top-25 for the first time in program history this December, NSU became the first HBCU ever to be represented in both the men’s and women’s mid-major polls at the same time.
NSU has amassed the best overall record of any MEAC team (20-9) this year, with 18-12 Howard owning the next strongest overall win-loss record.
• Kris Bankston is shooting 69.3 percent from the floor this season, after breaking the Norfolk State single-season field goal percentage record last year on a 71.1 percent clip. Bankston’s current mark leads the conference.
• Joe Bryant Jr. ranks third in the MEAC with 17.6 points per game, while adding 3.4 assists per game (fifth in MEAC) and 2.3 3-pointers per contest (second). Cahiem Brown is sixth in the MEAC with 3.1 assists per game.
• Bankston’s 7.2 rebounds per game rank second in the MEAC, while his 1.7 blocks per game stand second in the conference.
• Chris Ford ranks ninth in the MEAC in blocks per game (0.7).
• Norfolk State was predicted to finish first in the MEAC this season in the conference’s annual preseason poll, with 127 points and 15 first-place votes. North Carolina Central followed closely behind in second with 102 points.
• Three Norfolk State players were selected to Preseason All-MEAC Teams: Joe Bryant Jr. (First Team, Player of the Year), Kris Bankston (First Team), and Dana Tate Jr. (Third Team). Two players represented Howard: Elijah Hawkins (First Team) and Steve Settle III (Second Team).
• Joe Bryant Jr. ranks first in the MEAC with a free throw percentage of 84.7. Last year, Bryant led the MEAC and set Norfolk State’s single-season record for the category (91.5).
• As a team, Norfolk State ranks first in the MEAC in free throw percentage (74.5).
• Norfolk State leads the MEAC in assist to turnover ratio at 1.00.