NORFOLK, Va. — Kierra Wheeler registered her ninth double-double of the season and second consecutive in the 2023 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Women's Basketball Tournament as the Norfolk State University women's basketball team advanced to championship game with an 81-59 victory over North Carolina Central in the semifinals on Friday at the Norfolk Scope Arena.
Norfolk State (25-6), the tournament's top seed, advances to Saturday's MEAC Women's Tournament Championship game for the third time in five years and will look to avenge last year's title-game loss to Howard. North Carolina Central, the fourth seed, was eliminated and ends its season at 15-16.
Wheeler, who is averaging 21.5 points and 11.0 rebounds in two tournament games, led the Spartans with 22 points and 12 rebounds, along with one blocked shot and one assist.
Camille Downs scored 15 points, including 8-of-10 from the foul line, with six boards, six assists and five steals. Da'naijah Williams just missed tying her career high, finishing with 14 points and five boards. Niya Fields added 11 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals, while Deja Francis chipped in 10 points, five boards and one assist.
Kimia Carter led the Eagle offense with 12 points, two boards and two steals. Tippy Robertson chipped in 10 points, five boards, five assists and one steal and Morgan Callahan added nine points, a team-high 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and one blocked shot.
North Carolina Central scored the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer, by Robertson, but the Eagles went scoreless over the next three minutes as Norfolk State built a 9-3 advantage, capped by a layup by Makoye Diawara with 5:48 remaining in the first period.
Back came the Eagles, on the heels of a 6-2 run, cutting the gap to 11-9 after a trey by Carter with 3:45 left.
The Spartans closed the quarter strong, holding NCCU scoreless during the final 3:45 as Norfolk State used a dominating 9-0 run, capped by free throws during the final 17 seconds by Downs and Mahoganie Williams to take a 20-9 advantage into the second quarter.
Norfolk State began the second half strong, opening up a 27-13 lead after baskets by Da'najiah Wiliams and Deja Francis with 6:30 remaining in the half.
North Carolina Central cut the deficit to 29-19 after a pair of free throws by Morgan Callahan with 3:45 left, but Norfolk State answered during the final 3:45 of the period as the Spartans used a 10-3 run to take a commanding 39-22 lead into the break.
The Spartans stretched the lead to 43-22 less than a minute into the third quarter on free throws by Niya Fields and Francis, but North Carolina Central refused to go away quietly, closing the gap to 45-31 after a triple by Kimeira Burks with 6:48 remaining.
NCCU continued to chip away at the deficit as Jerni Kiaku sank a free throw to pull the Eagles to 47-35 with 6:06 left.
Wheeler's three-point play gave NSU a 54-37 lead with just over one minute remaining in the third, but the Eagles closed the period strong, closing the gap to 56-42.
A Da'naijah Williams layup gave NSU a 63-48 advantage, but the Eagles rallied and trimmed the margin to 65-54 after a bucket by Kimia Carter with just under five minutes to play.
That would be as close as North Carolina Central would get as Norfolk State started to pull away. The Spartans got free throws by Downs, Francis and Skye Robinson, along with baskets by Wheeler to extend the lead to 75-56 with 1:56 remaining.