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Hampton rallies from 11-point deficit to win

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HAMPTON, Va. - Hampton rarely plays elegant basketball, but its gritty determination and strong defensive efforts have kept it in most games.

It was no different Monday night.

In a sloppy, choppy and, at times, testy encounter, Hampton rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to defeat Bethune-Cookman 75-66 at HU Convocation Center.

With the win, and North Carolina A&T's upset of Savannah State, Hampton has clinched the third seed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

Deron Powers led the Pirates with 17 points and four assists, while Emmanuel Okoroba and Wesley Dunning each had 11.

Adrien Coleman led the Wildcats with 15 points and 12 rebounds, Allan Dempster had 14 and Javoris Bryant had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Bethune-Cookman was held to 38 percent shooting (23 of 61), making just 3 of 16 three-pointers.

The Wildcats' guards, Paul Scotland and Kevin Dukes, combined to shoot just 3-of-19.

Wildcats coach Gravelle Craig said that his players "just stopped guarding."

"We were keeping [the Pirates] in front of us, making them beat us from the outside in the first half," Craig said. "In the second half, they started to get easy baskets, and that was the difference in the game."

The Wildcats (12-18, 7-8 MEAC) led 38-32 at halftime and extended their lead to 45-34 with 17:14 left on an Alex Smith layup.

But the Pirates (14-15, 11-4), who have won nine of their last 11 games, made 12 of their first 19 second-half shots (63 percent) and used a 16-4 run to take a 50-49 lead with 11:19 left. The Pirates finished by shooting 44 percent for the game (23 of 52).

Pirates coach Ed Joyner Jr. credited senior guard Aaron Austin with being the main impetus in the rally. During the Pirates' run, Austin made a pair of jumpers, and picked up a key assist and rebound.

"He willed us back with his energy," Joyner said. "And that's what's needed. We owe a lot of that to him. He gave us confidence."

Bryant's jumper briefly gave the Wildcats the lead again, but Powers made a layup on the Pirates' next possession, and Ramon Mercado converted a 3-pointer, though he received an unsportsmanlike technical foul for excessive celebration.

Still, the Pirates maintained the lead and were able to pull away down the stretch, getting key minutes from several reserves, including Dunning, who was 4-of-4 from the field and scored nine of his 11 points in the second half.

"We moved the ball a lot in the second half, and that's how we got open shots," Powers said.

Bethune-Cookman took a six-point lead at intermission behind Dempster's 10 points and Coleman's nine points and 10 rebounds.

"We were so flat for 25 minutes of that ballgame," Joyner said. "That last 15 minutes, we were able to pick it up and reach a different level."

Hampton was led at halftime by Okoroba with nine points, while Powers and Du'Vaughn Maxwell each had seven. Two of Maxwell's seven came on a spectacular reverse slam.

Early foul trouble plagued both teams, as the Pirates' backcourt of Austin and Powers both went to the bench with three fouls each in the first half, forcing Joyner to go to his bench to seldom-used Jasper Williams for the last six minutes of the first half.

Joyner was able to stagger minutes for Austin and Powers in the second half, starting Powers on the bench.

The Wildcats had foul troubles of their own, as Smith and Marc Mack also picked up three fouls apiece in the first half, and Coleman fouled out late in the game.

The teams combined for 25 fouls and 16 turnovers in the first half, and had 50 fouls and 32 turnovers between them for the game.

Powers was the dominant force early, scoring seven points in the first 4:45, putting the Pirates up 9-8.

The teams exchanged the lead eight times in the first half, with the Wildcats scoring five of the last six points of the half to take a six-point lead.

Both teams shot under 40 percent for the half, with the Wildcats making 39 percent (13 of 33) while the Pirates were at 37 percent (11 of 30). However, the Wildcats outrebounded the Pirates 25-19 and had 12 second-chance points to the Pirates' two. By the end of the game, both teams finished with 39 rebounds apiece.

With a win Thursday at home against second-place North Carolina Central, the Pirates will finish the regular season at .500, something that was hard for them to envision when they started 2-10. Since that point, the Pirates are 12-5.

"We like where we are," Joyner said. "We've got to keep it going, though. That's what I keep telling the guys. At this point, no loss is too big on us. No win is too great for us. But we need to continue on the path we're on and stay together."

Notes: The Pirates started the day tied for third place with Savannah State, but the Tigers lost 59-57 to North Carolina A&T to fall to fourth place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference standings. Norfolk State and North Carolina Central have clinched the top two seeds, respectively. The top three teams in the regular season receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament ... Mercado was named the MEAC's player of the week, while Du'Vaughn Maxwell was named defensive player of the week.
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