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Norfolk State opens NCAA Tournament against reigning champion Baylor

The Spartans and the Bears tip off at 2 p.m. EST from Fort Worth, Texas

NCAA Basketball: MEAC Tournament Championship-Coppin State at Norfolk State
Joe Bryant Jr. won the MEAC Player of the Year award and led the conference in scoring at 16.8 points per game.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup: No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 1 Baylor

Date and Time: Thursday, March 17 at 2 p.m. EST

Location: Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, Texas

DraftKings Line: Baylor -20.5, O/U 137.5

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – When Norfolk State won the MEAC championship on Saturday, it celebrated its second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament. It’s reward: a No. 16 seed and a matchup with No. 1 seed and the reigning national champion Baylor Bears.

This is familiar territory for the Spartans. Last season they were a 16 seed and defeated Appalachian State in the First Four to earn a date with top-overall seed Gonzaga, who was undefeated entering the Tournament.

In 2022, Norfolk State won both the MEAC regular season and tournament titles. The Spartans enter the NCAA Tournament at 24-6. They went 12-2 in the conference and ran the table, a perfect 11-0, at home.

NSU has won six straight games, capped off by a 72-57 win over Coppin State in the MEAC championship game. It was a low-scoring first half as the Eagles led 24-20 at the break. Joe Bryant Jr. scored more than half of the team’s points as he poured in 13 in the opening 20 minutes.

Norfolk State expanded the lead to double digits in first two minutes of the second half. In the final 20 minutes, the Eagles knocked down 62.5% of their shots. For the game, they won the rebounding battle by 15.

Bryant won tournament MVP honors for a second straight season as he finished with a game-high 23 points. Jalen Hawkins poured in 17 points, and Dana Tate narrowly missed a double-double with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Bryant also earned MEAC Player of the Year honors. He led the conference in scoring at 16.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Robert Jones claimed the Coach of the Year award. He has led the Spartans to the conference regular season and tournament titles in each of the last two seasons. He also received the award in 2019.

Kris Bankston was named to the All-MEAC Second Team as he averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.9 rebounds, which ranked second in the conference. Hawkins received Third Team honors as he finished seventh in the league in scoring at 13.4 points per contest.

The Eagles boasted the league’s best defense by yielding 63.7 points per game. They ranked second in scoring at 75.1 points.