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MEAC Semifinal Preview – Norfolk State and Morgan State set for a rubber match

The Spartans ran away with the regular season title, but will they be upset by the Bears for the second time this year?

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Xavier
Christian Ings averaged 9.8 points per game for Norfolk State this season.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Team: #4 Morgan State Bears

Location: Baltimore

Record: 13-13 (7-6 MEAC)

NCAA Tournament History: Morgan State made its only two appearances in the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 2010, taking the MEAC tournament title as the top seed in both years. The Bears lost first round games to Oklahoma and West Virginia, respectively.

Team: #1 Norfolk State Spartans

Location: Norfolk, Va.

Record: 22-6 (12-2 MEAC)

NCAA Tournament History: Norfolk State has also made two appearances in 2012 and 2021. In 2012, they famously knocked off second-seed Missouri in a first-round shocker before falling to seventh-seed Florida. Last year, they picked up a First Four win against Appalachian State before being defeated by eventual national runner-up Gonzaga.

Preview

Norfolk State ran away with the conference title – three games clear of second place – and remain prohibitive favorites to defend their MEAC Tournament crown. The Spartans sport the highest adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and at 169 in overall KenPom ranking, they sit 66 slots ahead of the next highest MEAC team, Howard.

But, as they say, that’s why they play the games. The Spartans nearly lost to Delaware State (one of the worst teams in the country who finished the season without a single win against Division I competition) in the quarterfinals but escaped with an eight-point win. Now they face Morgan State, who survived South Carolina State in the quarterfinals by three points and were one of only two MEAC teams to win a game against the Spartans all year.

The teams split their two regular season matchups, with each winning on their home court. In the first game, Norfolk State cruised to a 20-point win by holding the Bears to 31.4% shooting and just 5-of-30 (16.7%) from deep. Jalen Hawkins, Christian Ings, and Joe Bryant, Jr. each scored 18 points to lead the team, while Lagio Grantsaan led just two double-digit scorers for Morgan State with 14 points.

Notably missing from the teams’ first matchup was Morgan State’s leading scorer, Malik Miller, who returned from over a month-long ankle injury in late January. When they faced off in February, the Bears flipped the script and shot 52.4% for the game. They also came back from a ten-point second-half deficit to win by 11. Grantsaan again led the team with 17 points as four scored in double figures this time. Norfolk State again got strong games from Bryant and Hawkins but missed the services of Ings that night.

With the season on the line, Norfolk State – which has the luxury of playing the tournament in its home city – will be favored, but this game will likely come down to whether Morgan State can catch fire like it did in the second game. Another key area to watch is rebounding: the winner of the rebounding battle has won each of the first two matchups. With both Ings and Miller likely to be in the lineup tonight, we could be in for an interesting game three.

DraftKings line: Norfolk State -5.5 (O/U 140.5)

Arena: Norfolk Scope, Norfolk, Va.

Game time: 6 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN+