DOVER, Del. - Hampton looks to Ramon Mercado to give it energy off the bench, and the junior guard provided plenty of that on Monday night. He also gave the Pirates something else they needed badly -- points.
Mercado scored 10 points in the second half and the Pirates rallied for a 57-50 victory over Delaware State at Memorial Hall to tighten their grip on fourth place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Association.
"He basically saved us,'' Hampton coach Edward Joyner said.
It was the final road game of the season for Hampton (12-15 overall, 9-4 in the MEAC) and the final home game for Delaware State (11-16 overall, 7-6 in the MEAC).
Hampton trailed the entire first half and was behind by four points, 26-22, at halftime.
But the Pirates went on a 10-5 run at the beginning of the second half to take a lead they never surrendered.
Mercado led the way. He made a fast-break layup and followed that with a reverse layup to give Hampton a 36-31 lead. He then drained back-to-back three-point shots, and the second one pushed the Pirates' lead to 47-34.
"I just try to give my team whatever it needs, whenever they need it,'' Mercado said. "I got that first one [fast-break lay-up] and then everything seemed to come easier for me. I can be a pretty good shooter sometimes and tonight was one of those times. The shots came to me and I took them and I made them."
The Pirates won even though they didn't get much from forward Du'Vaughn Maxwell, who dominated the Hornets when Hampton beat them 85-84 on Feb. 11. That was the best game of Maxwell's career, as he scored 29 points, making 12 of 13 shots from the field (92.3 percent), and grabbed 10 rebounds. In the Pirates' other 25 games this season, Maxwell was averaging 10 points per game and shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
But Maxwell scored just five points in the first half on Monday night and injured a leg in the opening minutes of the second half. He came back in the game later, but he finished with just nine points.
Mercaro finished with 12 points in 15 minutes for Hampton, and Deron Powers and Emmanuel Okoroba added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Marques Oliver and Amare Ray led Delaware State with 11 points each.
"This was a big game for us, because if we had lost, we would have been tied with them,'' Powers said. "That was our focus and we kept that focus even though we didn't play very well in the first half.''
Joyner said that focus was the key to the Pirates' comeback.
"If I had to point to one thing that won this game for us it would be the composure we showed in the second half,'' Joyner said. "That's what we stressed to the kids at halftime. We played hard in the first half, but we didn't keep our focus or our composure. We turned the ball over and took bad shots and that's not the way we want to play this game.
"But we did a much better job in the second half and that made all the difference in the world.''
Mercado came into the game averaging 7.5 points, and Joyner said it was just a matter of time before Mecardo's production increased.
"We've been waiting for him to have a game like this,'' Joyner said with a smile. "We know Ramon has the ability to score the ball and hopefully a game like this will help his confidence on the offensive end of the floor."
While the Pirates kept their composure in the second half, the Hornets lost theirs, and Delaware State coach Greg Jackson said that was the difference in the game.
"They just played with more intensity than we played with, and we lost our focus,'' Jackson said. "I thought Hampton came out after halftime and took it right to us. They wanted this game more than we wanted it - and it showed."
NOTES: Hampton won 85-84 in the first meeting between these teams, when Delaware State's bench scored 49 of the Hornets' 84 points. ... Coming into the game, Delaware State had only one scorer averaging in double figures, guard Tahj Tate (12.9 points per game). ... Hampton lost its last game, a bracket-buster vs. St. Peter's, 66-59 on Saturday. ... Hampton is 19-15 against Delaware State since the Pirates moved up to Division I in 1995.