Norfolk State women advance to third straight MEAC championship game with rout of Coppin State

NORFOLK — The Norfolk State women’s basketball team is one win from going back to the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans defeated No. 4 seed Coppin State 73-44 on Friday at Scope to advance to their third straight MEAC Tournament championship game Saturday.

The Spartans will play No. 2 seed Howard, which defeated No. 3 North Carolina Central 69-56 in the other semifinal, at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I’ll start by just saying, Wow,’ ” NSU head coach Larry Vickers said. “I think the intensity you saw from our basketball team in that first half was a sign of respect for Coppin State. They had a good season, they were winning in our place pretty much to halftime and then down at their place they were up early, so that was just a sign of respect. We came out here super-focused today. We did a good job with our adjustments and our finishers made plays and finished.”

Friday’s contest was just the latest in a string of dominant games for Norfolk State. The Spartans shot 44% from the field and 37% from 3-point range while scoring more than 70 points for the second time in three days.

Diamond Johnson and Kierra Wheeler continued to show they’re the two best players in the MEAC and a top duo in the country.

Johnson led Norfolk State with a double-double, collecting 30 points and 11 rebounds. She hit a career-high six 3-pointers and outscored Coppin State by herself in the first half with 19 points early. Her 30 points are the most in a MEAC Tournament game by a Spartans player in school history.

“Just to play hard,” Johnson said of her mindset during the game. “Obviously get the dub, but Coppin State, we played close games the second time we played them. This third time, we knew we had to come out strong. Our press was really good. … I think we rebounded well and I made my shots within the flow of the game.”

Wheeler finished with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting and also tallied six rebounds and three assists, steals and blocks. She also played a huge role on defense and helped Norfolk State limit Coppin State to just five field goals in the first half and 25% shooting for the game.

“Meme did a tremendous job today,” Vickers said. “You know it’s good to see, especially as a forward, when you see two good forwards battling it out. I know she came locked in, Meme came locked in today and our forward was the better of the two. But I thought our team was flying around on the board and we were active. We’re generally good defensively for the most part every game, but that first half we were great.”

Michael Sauls, (757) 803-5774,