WINSTON-SALEM, N.C – Brandon Tunnell scored 12 of his career-high 20 points in the second half and Darrion Pellum added all 12 of his after intermission to help Hampton defeat Morgan State, 60-55 in the MEAC Tournament Championship at the Joel Coliseum.
“It was a war,” Hampton head coach Ed Joyner said. “It was what we expected; it’s the one we wanted to win.”
The Pirates (24-8) denied the Bears their fourth consecutive tournament title and Joyner obtained his first ever as a head coach. The win also secured Hampton an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Hampton will learn when and where they will compete in the NCAA tournament once the pairings are announced on Sunday.
“This is huge to the Hampton community and University community,” Joyner said. “We have great fans, I’m happy for them.”
Mike Tuitt and Kwame Morgan picked up the slack for Hampton in the first 20 minutes when Pellum, Hampton’s leading scorer struggled, missing all seven of his shots to go scoreless.
“I already knew it would be tough,” Pellum said. “My teammates told me to keep shooting.”
The Pirates got out of the block early with a 10-2 lead before the Bears (17-14) settled in and responded with a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to one. From there, the contest went back and forth with Hampton maintaining a three-point lead through most of the game until DeWayne Jackson led a 7-3 spurt to take a 29-28 lead at the half.
“We’re typically a better second half team,” Brandon Tunnell said. “As long as we stayed together and believed in one another, we felt we could get it done.”
Tuitt began to assert himself in the second half and along with Pellum, as the duo led Hampton to an 18-8 run to take a 46-37 advantage at the 8:20 mark. Tuitt and Pellum combined for 16 of Hampton’s 18 points scored during the run.
Hampton’s success also resulted from a solid defensive performance, as the Pirates were able to contain Morgan State’s Kevin Thompson, who had dominated play in the previous rounds.
“Kevin’s a great player,” praised Joyner. “We were going to show them we weren’t going to lie down. Even if we have to lay down 45 fouls to show we’re not going to give up the inside.”
Thompson missed all five shots he took during the second half and finished with a mere eight points by the conclusion of the game.
“We need Kevin on the floor; that’s obvious.” Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman said. “He fought hard in there. It’s hard when you’re at the disadvantage.”
“Defense got us this far,” Tunnell said. “Some teams are based on offense; we’re bred on defense.”
Not only did Hampton’s defense limit Thompson, but the Pirates also held the Bears to 20 free throw attempts and forced Morgan State to take outside shots.
“Kevin Thompson is a great player,” Joyner said. “From a defensive standpoint we wanted to make sure that he would not beat us by himself. We did a great job on help defense and forced other players for them to take shots.”
Supporting the Bears throughout the game was DeWayne Jackson, who led all scorers with 25 points. Jackson, who was named to the MEAC All-Tournament team, shot 9 -of-19 from the field, including four shots behind the arc along with six rebounds. Other than Jackson, Thompson was the only other member of the Bears’ squad to post double digit numbers as he grabbed 15 rebounds, leading both the Morgan State and Hampton players.
Pellum was named to the Outstanding Performer of the tournament, while Joyner was named the Outstanding Coach. Jackson, Pellum, Morgan, Thompson and Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State earned All-
Tournament team honors.
“The game was a blur for me; I can half remember of what happened, but we won,” Joyner said. “I give a lot of credit to these kids. They took me on this ride and I appreciate them for that.”