WASHINGTON, D.C. - The only lead of the game for the Norfolk State men’s basketball team came with just 2.1 seconds left. But on Saturday afternoon at Burr Gymnasium, 2.1 seconds was all the Spartans needed.
Down by as much as 24 in the second half, NSU came all the way back to win 80-78 over Howard and stay perfect in the MEAC. Howard led the entire time until the Spartans tied it up with 1:31 to go.
Sophomore Mastadi Pitt later hit a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds left after getting fouled on a drive to the hoop. Howard’s half-court shot at the buzzer did not fall.
The victory also gave head coach Robert Jones 100 career wins. He surpassed previous head coach Anthony Evans for the most wins of any coach in NSU’s Division I history.
NSU moved to 8-0 in the MEAC and 13-10 overall. Following a loss by North Carolina A&T, the Spartans are now the only undefeated team left in the league and one of just three that has even two losses or less.
The comeback matched the biggest for the Spartans in 11 years following a 24-point rally over Bethune-Cookman in 2007-08.
Although Pitt scored the final points of the game and 10 for the afternoon, all in the second half, it was seniors Jordan Butler and Derrik Jamerson Jr. who made the comeback possible. Butler finished with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting with 10 rebounds, while Jamerson added 20 thanks to 4-of-6 3-point shooting. They combined for 31 points in the second half, and along with Pitt, the trio scored 41 of the team’s 50 points in the second half.
The Spartans shot 50 percent in the second half after making just 30 percent in the first. They outscored the Bison by 17 (50-33) and themselves by 20 compared to their first half production.
NSU found itself down by 15 at the break, as Howard’s R.J. Cole had 20 points in the first 20 minutes of play. It was part of a 29-point effort for the league’s leading scorer in the game, which included an 8-of-17 shooting effort, 5-of-10 from deep, with six assists and five rebounds.
HU, however, fell to 10-13 overall and 4-4 in the MEAC despite hitting 50 percent for the game.
Up 45-30 at the break, the Bison came out and made eight straight and 10 of the first 11 points to start the second half. That pushed their lead to the largest of the game at 24, 55-31. But the Spartans made their big run at that point. Beginning with a 3-pointer from Jamerson, the Spartans outscored the Bison 22-5 over four and a half minutes of play.
Jamerson had two more buckets during that time, junior Steven Whitley had a 3-point play, and Butler finished it off with a dunk at the 12:30 mark. Howard led by just seven at that point, 60-53. Butler scored six straight to cut the deficit to five with 8:42 left, and Pitt had two free throws and another basket to make it a two-point ballgame.
Howard still led by four three different times as the teams combined for 10 points in just a minute span. Butler’s layup off an offensive rebound was followed by a dunk from another offensive board as the Bison missed their last three shots prior to Cole’s last second heave.
Chad Lott added 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds, and Charles Williams tallied 16 points on 6-of-13 from the floor. Zion Cousins also had nine boards, as Howard held a 37-33 edge on the glass.
The Spartans, however, had 16 offensive rebounds and just nine turnovers compared to 17 for the Bison. NSU outscored them 23-9 in points off turnovers and 21-9 in second-chance points. Butler had seven of the team’s offensive boards, including the last to set up NSU’s last play.
The Bison took an early 15-4 lead to start the game, with Cole knocking down back-to-back shots from beyond the arc at the end of that run for the 11-point edge. Jamerson and junior Nic Thomas each had a couple of baskets to get the Spartans back to single digits eight minutes in. Jamerson later made four straight from the free throw line, after Howard was called for a foul and a tech, to make it 25-20 in favor of the Bison with 8:41 on the clock.
But they countered with a 17-4 run that lasted less than six minutes. They pushed the lead to 18 after that point, 42-24, with two and a half minutes to go in the half. After NSU scored the next six points, Lott hit a free throw and then a reverse layup with time expiring to give HU its 15 point halftime lead.
HU shot nearly 56 percent in the first half and was 28-of-56 for the game, including 7-of-15 from deep. NSU made 26-of-63 (41.3 percent) and 23-of-29 from the free throw line. Four of the team’s five 3-pointers came in the second half.
Thomas scored 14 points for NSU, thanks in part to a 9-of-10 effort from the free throw line.
It marked the first time since the 2010-11 season that the Spartans had game winning free throws in the last five seconds of play.
The Spartans will make their way to Florida next weekend, taking on Bethune-Cookman next Saturday and then Florida A&M two days later.