MEAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Kyle O’Quinn scored a team-high 18 points to lead Norfolk State to a 73-70 victory over Bethune-Cookman to capture the 2012 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament Title at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The No. 2 Spartans (25-9), who earned their first-ever MEAC title, receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will await the announcement in tomorrow’s selection show of their post-season opponent.
The two teams battled back and forth through the early part of the first half until the Spartans used a 14-4 run over the last seven minutes to take a 35-22 advantage. Pendarvis Williams, a 6-6 sophomore guard and O’Quinn combined for 19 points and 10 rebounds between them.
The Wildcats (18-17) were limited to 31-percent shooting on an 8-for-26 effort. They were out-rebounded, 21-13.
“Rebounding was huge in the first half, especially on the offensive glass,” explained Bethune-Cookman interim head coach Gravelle Craig. “That was the reason that they were able to get the lead.”
Norfolk State maintained a 12 to 14-point lead over the first 14 minutes until the scrappy Wildcats began to chip away at the lead.
“We knew it would be a battle,” said Norfolk State Coach Anthony Evans. “They are relentless going to the basket and they never give up.”
Bethune-Cookman was able to get the lead down to eight on four different occasions, but each time, Norfolk State would answer with timely baskets from O’Quinn and Johnson.
“O’Quinn was a big factor; he got his hands on a lot of balls,” said Craig. “He made us change a lot of our shots.”
Added Evans. “We depend a lot on those guys (O’Quinn and Williams) and Rob’s (Johnson) play off the bench has been a big spark for us.”
Trailing 69-60 at the 1:28 mark, the Wildcats staged a furious rally, outscoring the Spartans, 10-4 in less than a minute. Kevin Dukes, who scored 12 of his team-high 18 in the second along with Garrius Holloman and Adrien Coleman led the rally.
With the score, 73-70 and just 17 seconds on the clock, the Wildcats had possession following a Norfolk State turnover. Holloman scored four of the points during that stretch and attempted a 3-point shot that just missed. Bethune Cookman got the offensive rebound and Dukes got off another three that missed as the buzzer sounded, setting off a big celebration.
“I was hoping to knock it down for my teammates,” said Holloman. “I saw at the end that it was off just a little bit. I didn’t get great rotation on it.”
It was the Spartans’ first tournament championship since joining the conference in 1997. For O’Quinn, a senior who finished with 18 points on 6 of 12 shooting and seven rebounds, the championship had special meaning.