NORFOLK, Va. — Down by 19 in the first half, the comeback almost came to fruition for the Norfolk State men's basketball team. But on Saturday afternoon at Joseph Echols Hall, the Spartans fell just short against Morgan State.
In the MEAC opener for both teams, NSU twice got as close as one point late in the game before the Bears held on for a 78-74 win.
Senior Kashaun Hicks scored a career-high 20 points for NSU, which fell to 4-4 overall on the season. Junior Jalen Hawkins added 14 points, hitting all eight of his free throw attempts, as the duo led the Spartan charge in the second half.
NSU outscored Morgan State by 12 after intermission, holding the Bears to just 23 percent shooting after they made 58 percent in the first half.
Still down by 17 with less than 12 minutes to go in the half, the Spartans took control.
A 3-point play from Hicks, which allowed him to surpass his previous career high of 15 points, got the ball rolling for NSU. A pair of 3-pointers from Hawkins and senior Mustafa Lawrence made it a single-digit game, and another trey from Hawkins made it 64-59 in favor of Morgan State with eight and a half minutes still to go.
NSU eventually got to within four, and senior Devante Carter completed a 3-point play around a media timeout with 3:52 left in the game. That completed a long 26-10 run and made it a one-point ballgame. But that one-point deficit was as close as NSU got to holding its first lead of the game.
For the next two and a half minutes after Carter's bucket and free throw, neither team could find the bottom of the net. Morgan State finally did when Troy Baxter made 2-of-3 at the line with 1:14 on the clock.
The Spartans were again within one when Carter immediately followed with a layup, but MSU converted a backdoor layup on the other end and got two free throws from Malik Miller to go up by five. Hicks hit an off-balance 3-pointer from the right corner with 8.1 seconds left before the Bears sank two more from the line for the final score.
"We came out super flat in the first half, and we lost several of those media breaks (from media timeout to media timeout) by a good amount," said head coach Robert Jones. "Maybe there was a little rust there. In the end, we just lost a game, and now we have to bounce back tomorrow."
Baxter had 24 points to lead Morgan State, which improved to 5-2 on the year. Lagio Granstsaan finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds to help MSU finish +9 on the glass.
Lawrence and Carter also scored in double figures for the Spartans with 10 points each. Norfolk State was held to just 35 percent shooting for the game but did sink 10 shots from 3-point range.
Morgan State scored 13 of the game's first 15 points for an early double-digit lead. The Spartans scored the next seven points, and Hicks and junior Joe Bryant Jr. later had back-to-back treys to make it 19-15 in favor of MSU, the closest NSU got after the first few minutes of the game. The Bears scored 10 in a row for a 14-point lead, 33-19, with less than eight minutes to go in the half.
Another Hicks 3-pointer late in the half cut the Bear lead to 14 points. Morgan State, however, went into the break up by 16, 48-32. Baxter had 17 points in the first half.
For the game, the Bears outscored NSU 34-22 in points in the paint and had 12 different players reach the scoring column.
The Spartans finished with a season-high seven blocks while on the other end making 20-of-27 from the free throw line.