Hampton navigates Manhattan pressure to win NCAA Tournament opener

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Edward Joyner Jr.’s Hampton Pirates ended the regular season with a losing record, and they were the six-seed in the MEAC tournament. Yet despite playing without injured forward Dwight Meikle the Pirates were able to win the conference’s automatic bid, and on Tuesday night they won the opening game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Quinton Chievous tallied a double-double in the first half and finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, Reginald Johnson added 15 points and Brian Darden 13 as Hampton beat Manhattan 74-64 in the First Four in Dayton. Hampton’s reward for the win: a game against top overall seed Kentucky Thursday in Louisville.

Hampton did a good job of navigating the Manhattan pressure, which also impacted the Jaspers’ effectiveness on offense. The Pirates committed 14 turnovers, three fewer than Manhattan, and the absence of open-floor opportunities meant that Steve Masiello’s team had to attempt to crack Hampton’s half-court defense. They were unable to do so, shooting 37.1 percent from the field and 6-for-25 from beyond the arc.

They were also outscored by wide margins in both fast break (20-2 Hampton) and paint (36-22 Hampton) points, with the Pirates shooting just over 49 percent from the field. As important as Chievous and Johnson were for Hampton, point guard Deron Powers was another critical player on the night.

Powers was responsible for seven of Hampton’s 20 assists, and he committed just three turnovers. With Powers leading the way Hampton was able to get multiple open-floor opportunities as they took control of the game in the first half.

The end result was the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2001, when they upset two-seed Iowa State, and they’re the latest team to take advantage of a game in Dayton despite entering the field with a losing record. With Hampton’s win seven of last nine teams to enter the NCAA tournament with a losing record have won a game. That also earns a second monetary unit for the MEAC, and that is why smaller conferences don’t have much of an issue with their representative having to go to Dayton.

When asked about the possibility of facing Kentucky on Monday, Joyner joked that he would “probably have Jesus or somebody on speed dial.” And with Meikle (high ankle sprain) and Chievous (ankle) at less than full strength, and incredibly difficult task gets even tougher for Hampton. The good news for the Pirates is that they’ll get the chance to compete.