HAMPTON, Va. -- Hampton had a perfect opportunity in Thursday's regular season finale to showcase its season-long improvement against N.C. Central, vying for a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular season title.
However, the Pirates, while proving their mettle in the first half, fell apart during the first eight minutes of the second half. It was something that a late and furious rally couldn't cure as the Pirates fell 68-64 Thursday to the Eagles at HU Convocation Center.
Stanton Kidd led all scorers with 24 points, including 13 during a 19-4 run over the first 8:25 to pull away, as the Eagles (22-8, 15-1 MEAC) led by as many as 20 points.
The Pirates (14-16, 11-5) fought back, however, going on a late 14-0 run to close the gap to 60-58 with 1:12 remaining.
Jeremy Ingram hit a 3-pointer on the Eagles' next possession to give them a five-point lead, but Emmanuel Okoroba, who heated up in the second half, made a tough layup to cut the gap to 63-60.
After Ray Willis made one of two free throws, Deron Powers hit a layup for the Pirates to cut the Eagles' lead to two.
Willis, though, was fouled on the Eagles' next possession and made two free throws, and Powers turned the ball over, effectively finishing off the game.
Du'Vaughn Maxwell and Dwight Meikle each had 16 points to lead the Pirates, with 14 of Meikle's points coming in the late second half flurry. Emmanuel Okoroba chipped in 15 points.
In the midst of the 14-0 run, Meikle made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to help the Pirates cut the Eagles' lead to 60-50 with 5:20 remaining.
The Eagles shot 39 percent from the field (24 of 61), while the Pirates were 40 percent (23 of 58).
North Carolina Central took a slim 31-26 halftime lead after a highly contested opening 20 minutes.
Ray Willis scored Central's first five points, including a long-range 3-pointer, and finished with seven first half points to lead the Eagles.
But the Eagles shot poorly in the first half, making just 31 percent from the field (11 of 34).
The Ramon Mercado-to-Du'Vaughn Maxwell combination sparked the Pirates early on, as Maxwell slammed three times in the first half, the second on an alley-oop.
For Pirates senior Aaron Austin, the game started where he left off Monday night. Austin picked up two fouls in the first 1:44 and spent much of the first half on the bench.
Despite the win, the Eagles will have to settle for second place in the MEAC as Norfolk State defeated N.C. A&T to finish with its first-ever regular season MEAC title and finish undefeated in conference play.
NOTES: Three Hampton seniors played their final game Thursday at the HU Convocation Center: Wesley Dunning, Jasper Williams and Aaron Austin. ... N.C. Central came into Thursday's game having the second seed in next week's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament at Norfolk's Scope Arena. Hampton had secured the third seed regardless of Thursday's result.