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In 2012, the Norfolk State Spartans stunned second-seeded Missouri behind the play of now Orlando Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn. Last season, Norfolk State was in good position to make a second-straight trip to the NCAA tournament after running the table and going undefeated in MEAC play. However, in the quarterfinal of the conference tournament, Norfolk State was on the wrong end up an upset as eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman took down the regular season champion.
Anthony Evans has left the program to fill the coaching vacancy at Florida International, giving the reigns to Robert Jones, who has spent six years at Norfolk State with last season being his first as the associate head coach. He’s been with the program through the highs of 2012 and the disappointment of last March. Coming up short has fueled his team early in the fall.
“I think it humbles a team. It makes them a little hungrier,” Jones told NBC Sports during a phone interview on Friday afternoon.
Norfolk State is the projected No. 1 team in the MEAC again this season with reigning MEAC Player of the Year Pendarvis Williams back along with Malcolm Hawkins, Brandon Goode, Jamel Fuentes and Rashid Gaston.
“We have so many guys coming back, they have a bitter taste in their mouths,” Jones said.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Jones said of the offseason. “Some it has to do with stuff we implemented such as workouts. But a lot of it has to do with the guys, who have a chip on their shoulder, trying to redeem themselves from last year.”
The talent is there, and according to their coach, the Spartans have been more intense in practice than the team from 2012. Norfolk State doesn’t have a player like O’Quinn — though the 6-foot-6 Williams will get his fair share of pro looks — but the depth is better than two seasons ago. So could this team possibly be better than the fifth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed?
“Potentially,” Jones answers.
Jones acknowledges that postseason play can come down to luck, just like last season when Bethune-Cookman dropped a one-point game to the Spartans, made some adjustments, and beat Norfolk State nine days later the MEAC tournament.
“That 2012 team, the luck of the draw was that we were playing a Missouri team that: 1. We were bigger than and 2. They played a style that we had already seen throughout the seen in the MEAC with four guards against us,” he added. “It was a perfect matchup. If we can get a couple of those things to happen this postseason, you never know what could happen.”
Jones hasn’t changed too much since taking over. He’s tweaked some stuff, with a little more focus on the offensive end. “I think in the past we concentrated more on the defensive side of the ball, and lacked on the offensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “[We’ll] play a little bit faster, get some more points on the board. I think we have the athletes to get over the 70 range.”
Norfolk State showed what can happen in 2012. Like Jones said, they’ll need some bounces to go there way, but if Norfolk State doesn’t live up to the expectations once again, it won’t be for lack of effort. The Spartans have talent, an improved offense, and something to prove heading into its season, which starts on Nov. 8 against Texas Southern.