March 11, 2006
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Hampton verified its reputation as the premier program in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference at the expense of the defending tournament champ.
Jaz Cowan had 15 points, Jeff Granger added 14 and the sixth-seeded Pirates got the MEAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past six years with a 60-56 victory over Delaware State on Saturday night.
Now, if the Pirates (16-15) can only make this trip to the postseason as successful as their first one in 2001. They were only the fourth No. 15 seed to advance past the first round when they upset second-seeded Iowa State 58-57, and the next year, Hampton gave Connecticut a tough game before losing by 11.
The Hornets (20-13) successfully defended their regular-season title for coach Greg Jackson, but they couldn't beat Hampton in the final for the second straight season. Tracey Worley scored 15 points for Delaware State, which had to overcome an uncharacteristically poor outing from MEAC Player of the Year Jahsha Bluntt.
He came in averaging nearly 15 points but finished with only five on 1-for-11 from the field.
This still wasn't very easy for the Pirates. The Hornets trailed 46-30 when - perhaps out of desperation - Jackson abandoned his slow-paced, drain-the-shot-clock strategy and employed a full-court press.
The change had amazing results. The Pirates had turnovers on four their next five possessions - their only points came on two free throws from Dewayne Spencer - and the Hornets eventually closed within five on consecutive layups by Joe Dickens. The margin shrunk to three on Darrin Shine's basket from in close.
Thanks to some shoddy shooting at the line by both teams, it still was four in the final seconds when Elyon Bush tipped in a miss by Bluntt to make it 56-54. Rashad West converted both at the line on the other end for a four-point advantage before Bush again put back a rebound.
Granger made only 1-of-2 when he got fouled, giving Delaware State one final chance at a tie. But Dickens missed badly on a 3-pointer from the corner, and Spencer sealed it with another free throw.
When the buzzer sounded, the Pirates were mobbed on the court by a small group of fans, and a few of the players jumped on the press table and removed their jerseys in celebration. The hats and T-shirts proclaiming them MEAC champions soon followed.