Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hampton survives and advances in MEAC tourney

Thanks to injuries, Hampton no longer has a lot of players.

But the Lady Pirates may have just enough players - and talent - to make another run at a MEAC Tournament title.

Third-seeded Hampton kept its championship bid in play Thursday by downing No. 11 Maryland-Eastern Shore 66-56 in the quarterfinals at Norfolk's Scope. Jephany Brown scored a season-high 20 points and Monnazjea Finney-Smith added 17 for the Lady Pirates, who won their fourth straight and set up a semifinal date with No. 7 North Carolina A&T (15-17) Friday at approximately 2:30 p.m.

The Lady Pirates (18-12) blew a 21-point lead and fell to UMES by three when the teams met in the regular season. And while Hampton trailed for only nine seconds Thursday, the quarterfinal wasn't without one first-game flashback. Hampton shot out to a 12-2 lead and were up by 11 in the second quarter, only to see UMES chip away and seize a 30-29 advantage with 28 seconds left in the half. A few seconds later, though, James found Mikayla Sayle underneath for a transition layup to send the Lady Pirates into the break up 31-20. Hampton would not trail again.

The victory was Hampton's fourth straight and further demonstrated the resiliency of a group that has been rocked by injuries at the most important time of the season.

There's a tendency to assume that, since Hampton won five straight MEAC Tournament titles from 2009-13, that this team can draw on its championship pedigree. In fact, of the current active roster, only senior guard Georgianna Gilbeaux remains from any of Hampton's title-winning team.

This isn't even the same Hampton team that toppled NCAA Tournament-bound Temple in December. Since then, two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas, all-rookie team selection Ashley Bates and point guard Chanel Green has all been lost for the season due to injuries.

As a result, of Hampton's five starters Thursday, forward Kaylah Lupoe logged the fewest minutes - she played 36. Finney-Smith and Gilbeaux never came out of the game. Hampton's two reserves, Sayle and K'lynn Willis, combined to play seven of the possible 200 minutes.

After the game, Hampton coach David Six credited his players for their willingness to do whatever it takes.

"They haven't complained about it, they haven't cried about it," Six said. "They just go out and play."

Whether or not the players can sustain that workload and still perform at or near peak efficiency for potentially two more games on consecutive days remains to be seen. But it a league where there appears to be a good bit of parity among the top teams, the crew Hampton has left just might be enough.

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