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Second-half surge helps Norfolk State advance to CIT championship game

NORFOLK — Norfolk State will get to take the floor one more time this season. The Spartans defeated Alabama A&M 81-66 in the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Saturday at Echols Hall, securing a spot in the tournament’s championship game next week.

Alabama A&M controlled the game early and the Bulldogs led 31-28 at halftime. After starting slowly, the Spartans took control back in the second half.

“It was good to get back,” Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones said. “I know it took a little while, it seemed like, for us to really get back into that competitive spirit. But once we got going, it’s a basketball game. If you’re a competitor, you got to show up and play. I think that now, after the win, the locker room was a little different. Seems like the locker room now wants to go try to win a championship. So I think we got our competitive juices back.”

Senior Daryl Anderson ignited the Spartans’ run that put the game on ice. He hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions with just over five minutes left and gave Norfolk State its largest lead at the time, nine.

“I’ve just seen the hunger in my teammates’ eyes,” Anderson said. “I think we just wanted to find a way to win and luck was on my side today. The ball went in, so it definitely was a huge energy boost for us.”

Anderson finished as the game’s John McLendon Classic MVP after he tallied a season-high 15 points. He also logged two steals, a rebound and an assist.

Norfolk State scored 28 points and shot just 32.4% in the first half. In the second half, Jones said better shot selection helped the Spartans pour in 53 points on 62.5% shooting.

Jamarii Thomas, Norfolk State’s leading scorer and the MEAC Player of the Year, didn’t play Saturday due to an injury. Jones said he was pleased with how his team played in Thomas’ absence, but hopes he’ll be back for the CIT championship game.

“Hopefully, Jamarii will be back for the championship game because at the end of the day, he is a leading scorer, and even though we played well today without him, we could sure use him,” Jones said. “Hopefully, he’ll be back Wednesday and what capacity, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a limited capacity, maybe it’s a full capacity, I don’t know. But definitely we would like him back Wednesday for the championship game so we can be whole.”

Anderson was one of five Spartans to finish with double figures. Allen Betrand led the team with 16 points, Jack Doumbia scored 13 and Chris Fields and Christian Ings each had 11.

“I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Credit to the guys who stepped up,’ ” Jones said. “We had five double-digit scorers today. We haven’t had that in a while. We’ve had three, sometimes four every now and then. But I don’t know the last time we had five this year. So I’m happy that all these guys stepped up.”

Norfolk State was also without senior Tyrese Jenkins, who was nowhere to be seen on the bench. Jones said he thinks Jenkins opted out, but there hadn’t been any communication with him.

A date for the CIT championship game has not been set, according to its website. Jones said the game will be either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on travel. Norfolk State will play the winner of Monday’s semifinal matchup between Tarleton State and Purdue Fort Wayne.

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