Friday, March 10, 2017

Hampton moves one step closer to MEAC title

DeJane James - Snoop to the hoop!

Hampton had "Snoop."

North Carolina A&T had the oops. 

Consequently, the third-seeded Lady Pirates are moving on to Saturday's MEAC final.


Sophomore point guard DeJane "Snoop" James had 16 points and five assists as Hampton held off the No. 7 Aggies 64-62 in Friday's MEAC semifinals,, but not before a dramatic A&T rally ate up all but one point of a 14-point Lady Pirates lead. 

"That was like one of those boxing matches where we were on the ropes," Hampton coach David Six said with a relieved smile. "If there had been one more round, I don't know..."

The Aggies made all 10 of their fourth quarter field goals and actually had a chance to set up a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left. Instead, they curiously settled for a 2-point layup as the clock dwindled down to less than a second.

The Lady Pirates (19-12) will face top-seeded Bethune-Cookman (21-9) in Saturday's 3 p.m. MEAC final.

A&T scored 29 points in that fourth quarter, but managed just 33 in the first three quarters combined in the face on a dazzlingly disruptive Hampton pressure defense. Indeed, at times it was as though six Lady Pirates were on the floor - at least it must have seemed that way to the Aggies, who committed 30 turnovers.

Hampton's defensive tenacity came at a cost, though, as foul trouble dogged the Lady Pirates throughout. Jephany Brown, who scored 20 points in Thursday's quarterfinal to establish a season high for the third straight game, picked up three fouls in the first half and played just five minutes in the second before fouling out. Kaylah Lupoe, Hampton's All-MEAC forward, played just 11 minutes before fouling out with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter. And exactly one second after Lupoe sat down, her backup, Mikayla Sayle, picked up her fifth and grabbed a seat, too.

But with the Aggies surging and Brown, Lupoe and Sayle unavailable, James - nicknamed Snoop after a character on the HBO series "The Wire" - and her sophomore backcourt partner-in-stature K'lynn Willis (also 5-3) kept things from getting away. Both displayed sure handles, the courage to attack and the confidence to knock down free throws. 

James scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter and Willis finished with 11 - those two were the only Lady Pirates to score in double figures. The "Mighty-Mites," as Six called them, also combined to make 12 of 15 free throws. 

Asked why his young guards could play with so much poise on such a big stage, Six referenced a non-conference schedule that included trips to Northwestern, Iowa, N.C. State and South Carolina - all before Thanksgiving.

"The stakes are higher," Six said. "But they've played in big games before."

If there's a bright side to Hampton's foul problems Friday, it's that starters Brown and Lupoe, who played nearly the entire game in Thursday's quarterfinals, were unable to extend themselves against the Aggies and may have a bit extra in the tank in Saturday's final.

Bethune-Cookman defeated Hampton 66-56 in the teams' lone regular season meeting on Feb. 18 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Lady Pirates shot just 26.8 percent from the field and fell despite forcing 35 Wildcat turnovers. 

Saturday's winner will receive the MEAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Related: Hampton survives and advances in MEAC tourney

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