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Hampton drops heartbreaker to N.C. A&T on last-second shot before Pirates’ biggest home crowd of season

HAMPTON — Just when things appeared to be going right for coach Buck Joyner and the Hampton men’s basketball team on Monday night, everything went left, resulting in an 81-80 victory for North Carolina A&T at the HU Convocation Center.

With 27 seconds left on the clock and down by just one point, Joyner put the ball in hands of star junior Jordan Nesbitt’s.

Nesbitt took his time and sized up his defender before driving to his right and sinking a fadeaway mid-range jumper. Just as soon as Hampton had taken a 80-79 lead, the Aggies took the lead right back.

North Carolina A&T’s Camian Shell sliced through the Pirates’ defense and sunk a floater to take a 81-80 lead with 1.2 seconds to go.

“We played all the way down to the last shot,” Joyner said. “… We ended up in a situation where we hit the layup. I think our guy fell and one of our other guys fell, (A&T) ended up getting it in, and by the time (we) recovered, (Shell) went into the lane and made a contested floater.”

Hampton had 1.2 seconds to try to get a shot off, but with no timeouts left, the Pirates had to attempt to go the full length of the court. Nesbitt attempted a half-court heave but the shot missed, cementing A&T’s 81-80 victory.

The win column has escaped Hampton in the last month, and Monday was the latest in a tough stretch for the Pirates. Hampton dropped to 4-13, 0-5 in the Coastal Athletic Association, and extended its losing streak to eight games.

Joyner and his squad don’t put much stock into moral victories, but there were several signs of improvement. The Pirates played one of their most complete games of the year, but North Carolina A&T (4-13, 2-2) just happened to hit the final shot.

“We were able to have the confidence in what we were doing,” Joyner said. “… I think it’s something that (the team) can use to build themselves up to where they’ve been. You can throw in the towel. Tonight showed that they didn’t throw in the towel, they’re still there fighting.”

The game was evenly matched from the jump. In the first half, both teams were 50% from the field on 16-for-32 shooting, and the score was knotted up at 42. In the second half, Hampton outshot A&T 57.1% to 50%.

There were 12 ties and 11 lead changes in the game.

“That was the closest we’ve been to playing a complete 40 minutes,” freshman Jerry Deng said. “Just keep building on that and then try to finish out the next game.”

Hampton finished the game shooting 53.3%, its highest mark since its win over Virginia University of Lynchburg in the beginning of December.

Deng finished tied for Hampton’s lead in points with 17 on 6-for-9 shooting. The freshman has earned more minutes in more clutch situations, something he said has fueled his performances as of late.

“It does wonders for my confidence knowing that the coaches trust me in those situations where it’s crunch time,” Deng said.

The crowd at the Convocation Center was living and dying with every bit of the action. The fans had every excuse not to show up with a 9 p.m. tipoff, with the game shown nationally on CBS Sports Network, but the energy was high from wire to wire.

“I think you saw some of the results of that on the court,” Joyner said of the atmosphere. “Having a sixth man of that magnitude and hearing that extra cheering, and the cheerleaders, and the band, and the crowd yelling ‘Defense,’ this and that — that picks you up, that helps. The crowd was great. I think they did the job that they were supposed to do. We didn’t close the deal.”

A total of 3,020 fans showed up, the most for a Hampton home game this year and the most since 3,825 fans were in attendance for last year’s matchup with North Carolina A&T.

“It was a great showing for them,” Deng said. “It was the first time we had a good, big crowd, so it felt good and definitely gave me confidence in the game.”

Hampton will hit the road for its next two games, with matchups at Hofstra and Monmouth on deck to round out the week.

Michael Sauls, michael.sauls@virginiamedia.com, (757) 803-5774