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MEAC Semifinal Preview: Norfolk State faces Morgan State

The heavily favored Spartans will square off against red-hot Bears in the semifinals of the MEAC tournament.

Norfolk State v Gonzaga
Joe Bryant Jr. won the MEAC Player of the Year award and led the Spartans scoring with 16.5 points per game.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

How to Watch

Matchup: No. 4 Morgan State vs. No. 1 Norfolk State

When: Friday, 6 p.m. ET

Where: Scope Arena, Norfolk, Va.

TV: ESPN+

DraftKings Spread: Norfolk State -5.5, O/U 141

How they got to the Semifinals

Few teams entered conference championship week as heavier favorites in their respective leagues than the Norfolk State Spartans. Fresh off their second NCAA Tournament berth in program history, the Spartans were the superior team in the MEAC all season long. Norfolk State finished the regular season with a 21-6 record and 12-2 mark in conference play.

Head coach Robert Jones has been serving on the Norfolk State bench since 2007, and he’s currently in his eighth year as the program’s head coach. Jones was recently honored with his second MEAC Coach of the Year award, and he has a seasoned roster that will be itching to get back into the NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans boast an impressive core of veteran talent, but no player is more important to their success than Norfolk native and MEAC Player of the Year Joe Bryant Jr. led the Spartans scoring 16.5 points per game, while also grabbing over five rebounds and registering over three assists per matchup.

Despite entering the MEAC Tournament as overwhelming favorites, the Spartans experienced a legitimate scare to the eighth-seeded Delaware State Hornets in the tournament quarterfinals. Norfolk State led by one at the break, and wound up fending off the Hornets by a final score of 74-66. Senior guard Jalen Hawkins led the Spartans in scoring with 17, while forwards Kris Bankston and Dana Tate each added 14 points and seven rebounds apiece.

In the tournament semifinals, the Spartans will meet the fourth-seeded Morgan State Bears who saved their best basketball for the ideal time. After starting conference play 3-6, the Bears finished regular season play on a four game winning streak. Morgan State is led by senior guard Malik Miller, who scores over 12 points and grabs eight rebounds per game for the Bears.

The Bears survived a tough matchup with the South Carolina State Bulldogs in the conference quarterfinals, winning 80-77. Miller led the Bears with 16 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore forward Chad Venning contributed 15 points of his own.

These two teams most recently met February 21 at Morgan State. In the game that ignited Morgan State’s late-season run, the Bears used a monster second half to hand the Spartans one of their two conference losses on the year with a final score of 85-74.

The Prediction: Norfolk State -5.5

There will be some allure to fancying Morgan State to cover the spread in this spot. After all, the Bears are in the midst of a five-game winning streak and beat the Spartans by double figures a few weeks ago. Factor in Norfolk State’s shaky performance Wednesday night, and it’s not difficult to see why Morgan State could be an intriguing underdog play Friday evening.

However, now is not the time to get caught up in recency bias. Norfolk State is the better, more consistent team. Norfolk State’s roster is made up of the same core of players that won this tournament a year ago. The Spartans simply have more talent and experience, and this game is also being played in Norfolk which should provide the Spartan with a home-court advantage. I expect to see a statement performance from the Spartans, resulting in a double digit victory and third consecutive trip to the finals of the MEAC Tournament.