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2023 MEAC Basketball Tournament: Norfolk State eliminates Coppin State 73-56 in Quarterfinals

Image featuring former Norfolk State guard Joe Bryant Jr. vs Coppin State. Image courtesy of Norfolk State Athletics/Niya Grant.

The third-seeded Norfolk State Spartans (21-10 and 9-5 in conference play) defeated the sixth-seeded Coppin State Eagles (9-23 overall and 4-10 in conference play) 73-56 in the MEAC tournament quarterfinals at the Norfolk Scope.

The Spartans had three players score in double figures on the night. The Spartans were led by senior guard Joe Bryant Jr., who recently was named MEAC Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Bryant Jr. was responsible for 25 points, 5 steals and shooting 7/7 at the free throw line. Senior forward Kris Bankston garnered a double-double in the matchup, contributing 13 points and 11 rebounds, respectively. Senior forward Dana Tate Jr. added 13 points and 4 rebounds to help eliminate the Eagles.

The reigning MEAC tournament champions led by as many as 19 points late in the second half, despite trailing at halftime 23-24. Bryant Jr. had 6 points at intermission, but eventually was responsible for a 21-8 run in the middle of the second half for the Spartans to lead 55-43 with just under 6 minutes in regulation. The Spartans and Eagles split the regular season series as Norfolk State defeated Coppin State 96-65 on January 21st and Coppin State defeated Norfolk State 69-62 on February 20th, respectively. Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones conveyed his mindset heading into the matchup after losing to the Eagles in their final home game of the regular season.

“The game plan was to win. He [Bryant Jr] was hurt in that game so there were a couple things that happened in that game but credit to Coppin State. There were a couple things that affected our outcome and we wanted to come rectify that,” Jones said.

Coppin State were led by senior forward Mike Hood who contributed 18 points in the loss. Senior guard Sam Sessoms, who led the MEAC in scoring (20.7 points per game) in the regular season, was held to 12 points and shot 0-4 from three-point range. Coppin State head coach Juan Dixon gave analysis on his team's defeat to the Spartans.

“I thought in the first half we were really active, but we did not make timely threes. We missed some opportunities in the first half to really push the lead out, and that is where we give the other team confidence. If we make a couple threes in the first half, it’s a different outcome,” Dixon elaborated.

The Eagles showcased fluid ball movement, but missed key shots in the second half that eventually let the Spartans stretch the lead. Coppin State ultimately shot 34 percent from the field while their contemporaries shot 47.3 percent from the floor, respectively. Guard Sam Sessoms, who was selected to the first-team All-MEAC team, shared his thoughts on his final season as an Eagle.

“I could have gone to any school I wanted to but its life, it comes with wins and losses. I came across a great group of men, teammates, brothers, and coaches. I enjoyed my time here and there is a lot more I could have done,” Sessoms said.

Norfolk State will advance to the semifinals to face No. 2 seed North Carolina Central on Friday.

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