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Tyrel Bladen’s last-second shot delivers fifth straight victory for Norfolk State

NORFOLK — Norfolk State escaped Echols Hall with a win Saturday night, beating Delaware State 65-64 on Tyrel Bladen’s last-second shot to improve to 15-8 overall and 5-1 in the MEAC.

“Once again a gritty, hard-fought conference game,” Norfolk State head coach Robert Jones said. “This is what you expect when you’re in conference play. We didn’t want it to be that hard-fought, but hey, it is what it is. I’m happy we came out on top.”

Down by one with 40 seconds remaining, Jamarii Thomas showed up in the clutch. He drove into the paint and made a layup, giving Norfolk State a 63-62 lead.

It’s not the first time this season Thomas delivered a bucket when the Spartans needed it. In conference play alone, he’s helped give NSU wins thanks to clutch shots.

“I think he wants the ball there and that’s the first part of what the situation is like as a basketball player,” Jones said. “Anybody who plays basketball, whether it’s these guys, myself or anybody in this room, there’s some people that don’t want the ball that late. They don’t want to be the hero or the goat. … I think he wants the ball and doesn’t mind taking those shots and things like that. So that’s a credit to him that he wants to basketball down there.”

Delaware State’s Deywilk Tavarez responded with a layup with 14 seconds left and gave the Hornets a 64-63 lead.

With 11 seconds left to go, Christian Ings drove back and missed his shot after his defender made hard contact with him. NSU freshman Chris Fields came down with the rebound and put up a shot of his own with seven seconds left, but that shot missed, too.

Bladen came down with a second consecutive rebound and was able to float the ball in with two seconds remaining, giving Norfolk State the 65-64 lead.

“Man, it was great,” Bladen said. “I mean definitely exhilarating. As basketball players, we love moments like that. Credit to my guy, Chris Fields, getting that rebound — it don’t happen without that rebound. That just makes me proud to be part of this team, and it’s showing me that like certain guys are starting to step up with hustle plays and just being more physical, especially at times like that when we need it.”

Delaware State’s heave at the buzzer was unsuccessful and delivered Norfolk State its 16th straight win in the series. The Spartans haven’t lost to the Hornets since 2016.

Thomas finished the game as Norfolk State’s leading scorer with 25 points. Thomas has had trouble having an impact via his scoring in recent games, and Jones said he was happy to see him get back into a groove. Saturday’s performance is the first time Thomas has surpassed 20 since the Spartans played Stony Brook in December.

“I told him I needed my killer back, for lack of a better word,” Jones said. “… Credit to him for stepping up to the challenge. The biggest thing with him is that he’s a good scorer. What I was trying to get him to do was to try to use his dynamic scoring to get other people involved. He took that as almost like don’t shoot the ball, so now you gotta find a happy balance between shooting the ball, passing the ball and becoming that complete player. And hopefully, he’ll do that the second half of the MEAC season.”

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