Saturday, March 12, 2016

Hampton Pirates: 2015-16 MEAC Men's Basketball Champions



NORFOLK, Va. -- Reginald Johnson Jr. figured experience gave Hampton an advantage in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game.

The Pirates, after all, won the championship last season, and South Carolina State hadn't made it this far since a loss in 2010.

Still, it took Hampton until the last four minutes to take command.

"What helped us in this situation was the fact that we won it last year," Johnson said after scoring 21 points with eight assists.

The Pirates pulled away from a 67-all tie with a game-ending 14-2 run to claim their sixth tournament championship with an 81-69 win.

"You get that taste in your mouth and you don't want any other taste," Johnson said.

Brian Darden led the Pirates with 22 points, Jervon Pressley added 14 and Quinton Chievous 13 as Hampton avenged a regular season loss to the Bulldogs on their home floor. The difference, both sides agreed, was that Pressley missed the first game, and was a force this time.

"Von just took over in the end," said Chievous, noting that he finished with nine rebounds. "He was the key player to me because he hands down was a monster in my eyes, and him being consistent on the boards and scoring, that just pushed us over."

Johnson had a huge impact, too, leading the finishing surge by repeatedly driving into the lane and scoring or dumping the ball off to Pressley and Chievous.

"I think Reginald is strong," first-year Bulldogs coach Murray Garvin said. "He's strong as three men out there. He just bulled his way in there and he's got great body control. When you can dribble, pass and shoot, that's what every coach wants."

Eric Eaves scored 25 to lead South Carolina State (19-14), which was seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003.

"These guys have been here before," Garvin said. "You cannot go against experience and make some of the errors we had down the stretch."

The game was tied at 39 at halftime and close until the final stretch. The Bulldogs used a 14-5 run opening the second half to take a 53-44 lead, but Hampton answered with a 15-4 burst to take a 57-55 lead. The margin was no larger than four until the closing run.

"The normal person in here would feel like the pressure was on us," said Pirates coach Edward Joyner Jr., because Hampton was the defending champion and had been the team to beat all season. "We felt like the pressure was on them. You've got to continue to match us."

Chievous put the Pirates ahead to stay with 3:45 to play, and Johnson followed with a pair of free throws. Gabriel McCray got the Bulldogs' only basket of the final four minutes with 2:32 to play. But Johnson scored on a drive, fed Pressley for a basket and the partisan crowd started celebrating at Norfolk's Scope Arena, about 15 miles from the Hampton campus.

TIP INS

S.C. State: The Bulldogs were outscored 27-9 at the free-throw line and outrebounded 39-28. ... Garvin was voted the MEAC coach of the year.

Hampton: The Pirates' bench was outscored 39-14. ... The Pirates have only two players from Virginia -- Johnson and reserve Devon Oakley -- on their roster.

UP NEXT

Hampton will play in the NCAA Tournament.

Middle Tennessee State: 2015-16 Conference USA Men's Basketball Champions



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Reggie Upshaw made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left to lift Middle Tennessee to a 55-53 victory over Old Dominion on Saturday in the Conference USA tournament championship game.

The Blue Raiders (24-9) earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013 in a defensive struggle that was markedly different from their 99-90 semifinal shootout with Marshall.

Aaron Bacote dribbled once and launched a 3-pointer from before midcourt for Old Dominion (22-13).

That set off a celebration that included Upshaw standing on the scorer's table in front of Middle Tennessee fans at Legacy Arena. He was the tournament MVP.

Giddy Potts led Middle Tennessee with 14 points and made 4 of 5 3-pointers before fouling out. Darnell Harris scored 10 points and Upshaw had nine, including the two biggest.

Trey Freeman led Old Dominion with 17 points, but was only 7-of-23 shooting. Aaron Bacote scored 15 points and the rest of the team totaled 21.

Brandan Stith's tip-in attempt off Bacote's miss didn't fall, and he didn't appear to get it off on time anyway. He sprawled face-first on the floor when it didn't.

Freeman, the league's leading scorer, couldn't come close to his semifinal performance. He set a tournament record with 42 points, including 34 in the second half against Western Kentucky.

The teams traded tying baskets inside over the final 1:11 then Zoran Talley, whose jumper had given the Monarchs a lead, missed this time.

Middle Tennessee ran off most of the clock before Upshaw tried to spin and was fouled by Denzell Taylor as he shot.

GIDDY'S DAY

Potts, the nation's No. 2 3-point shooter, fouled out on a charge with 3:17 left and the game tied at 49. The rest of the team was 2 of 11 from 3-point range.

TREY'S TOUGH TIME

Freeman launched an array of long jumpers and made a deep 3-pointer but got few open looks. He refused to blame the fatigue of four games in four days. "I just had a bad game," he said.

TIP INS

Middle Tennessee: Has won six straight games. Now 9-1 in games decided by three points or less.

Old Dominion: Was trying to become the fifth C-USA team to win four tournament games in four days and first since Houston in 2012. Made 1 of 9 3-ointers.

UP NEXT

Middle Tennessee is heading to its eighth NCAA Tournament.

Old Dominion awaits its postseason fate, possibly in the NIT.

Stony Brook: 2015-16 America East Men's Basketball Champions



STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Jameel Warney wasn't going to let his final chance at an NCAA tournament slip away -- even with one hand behind his back.

With 1:15 remaining and Stony Brook holding on to a one-point lead, the Seawolves' senior big man fought off his man with one arm, grabbed an offensive rebound with the other and laid it back in to give Stony Brook a three-point lead it didn't relinquish en route to an 80-74 victory over Vermont in the America East Conference championship game.

"A missed shot is like a pass to me," Warney said. "Once the shot went in, I knew were one stop away from making history."

The 6-foot-8 Warney finished with a career-high 43 points, which tied a conference tournament record, and added 10 rebounds and four blocks. He single-handedly kept Stony Brook in the game in the first half, scoring 18 points, while the rest of the team went 3-of-19 from the field. The Seawolves were down by as many as 15 points in the second half, but senior guard Carson Puriefoy (23 points) stepped up and provided Warney with some help.

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The Saturday before Selection Sunday had become something of a Groundhog Day for coach Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook basketball. The Seawolves had reached the title game in four of the past five seasons -- and lost all four times, including twice at home. In 2013, Stony Brook was bounced in the semifinals after winning the regular-season title.

"It's been a blessing," Pikiell said. "Everyone in our league would die to be in our position. I've said, when they play well enough to win, they will. I talk about the 99 things we have done; everyone talks about the one thing we haven't."

But when Vermont opened up the 15-point lead in the second half, there was a sense at Island FCU Arena that it was happening again. Deja vu.

"We got this big chip on or shoulder," Warney said. "We always feel like we can win a game, even if we're down 100."

"My mindset was, 'We're not going to let this happen,'" Puriefoy added.

Warney simply wouldn't let Stony Brook stumble on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament this time around. Vermont tried everything it could to stop him, switching between man-to-man and zone defenses. But Warney answered every challenge, with three Vermont players eventually fouling out. He consistently got in a good position to score, and his teammates continued to find him for easy finishes at the rim.

"Just being aggressive from the start, and coach said before the game to get 20 shots up," Warney said. "Duck in hard, don't be casual with post-ups, playing to my strengths. And I thank my teammates for giving me the ball."

Stony Brook, which moved to Division I in 1999, will make its first NCAA tournament appearance.

"It's been an unbelievable journey. It's so hard," Pikiell said. "All the No. 1 seeds [losing this season], you see how hard it is. People think it's easy to win games. I'm proud of what we've built here."