Columbia, SC–As the old saying goes, “tried by fire, come out as pure gold,” and while Norfolk State saw its historic season come to an end Friday, the green and gold is definitely going to be a force next year.
The 16-seed Spartans fell to the overall top seeded South Carolina Gamecocks 72-40 Friday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
NSU remained within striking distance for most of the first quarter and then opened the second quarter with a quick 5-0 run. They went into the half down 34-18 and head coach Larry Vickers said South Carolina’s depth wore them down in the second half.
“South Carolina, they’re as good as you expect them to be. They just keep running them out, running them out,” he said. “In the third period, end of the third, we began to get a little gassed. Then they just bring (Sania Feagin) in. She just — Feagin, gosh. It was like Boston and (Kamilla Cardoso) were just wearing us down, wearing us down, wearing us down, and then they throw Feagin in to finish us.”
Forward Kierra Wheeler emphatically confirmed that it was in fact tiring facing the dynamic duo of Aliyah Boston and Kamilla Cardoso and then having to turn around and deal with the length of Laeticia Amihere, Ashlyn Watkins and Sania Faegin.
Still, the 6’1 sophomore held her own, finishing with 13 points and 8 rebounds. As one of the main pieces expected to return next year, Wheeler said this game showed her where she can improve in the offseason.
“It definitely showed me that I just got to work on my outside game,” she said “Just being able to compete with the top level girls is the best feeling. It’s nothing but work to be done this summer.”
Niya Fields finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Deja Francis tallied eight points and seven rebounds.
Norfolk State was able to hold USC to just 24 points in the paint while posting 20 of their own. While NSU was outrebounded 49 to 33, South Carolina only recorded eight second chance points.
Vickers said his team went in with several different goals, including showing the world just what NSU and the MEAC are capable of. He said that having chance to showcase their talents on ESPN is a major recruiting tool.
“ I didn’t bring it up all week, but we played on ESPN 1. You know what I’m saying? Like the first one (laughter). Not 2, not 3, not ESPN+,We played on ESPN today,” he said with a laugh. “…Just the exposure that you can get from this tournament is amazing. We appreciate the whole week.”
Vickers added that the Spartans will get back to work in hopes of returning to the Big Dance and hopefully with a higher seed and a different outcome.
“Well, I don’t care how, but hopefully we get here again, and hopefully we don’t have a 1 and a 6 next to our name,” he said. “…knowing that we have a sophomore group with six players, hopefully this sophomore group can come to the tournament in two years, and you’ll be, like, that sophomore group won 90 games together or 85 games together. You know, that’s something that we’re looking to build to.”