Here are four thoughts on Hampton’s 74-64 win over Manhattan in the First Four on Tuesday.
1. A great moment for the Pirates
For the past 14 years, Hampton’s single shining moment has been the Tarvis Williams shot that beat No. 2 seed Iowa State in the 2001 NCAA tournament and, who are we kidding, then-head-coach Steve Merfeld’s unforgettable, legs-kicking-in-the-air reaction. But the Pirates now have another reason to celebrate in the Big Dance. This one lacked the drama and the historic significance, but Hampton’s 10-point win over the Jaspers was nonetheless impressive in its own right.
The Pirates, who entered the game at 16-17, jumped out to a 7-0 lead over a MAAC team that gave then-defending national champion Louisville a stern test in last year’s tournament and never trailed. Even more noteworthy was the fact that they withstood several advances by Manhattan, which got within one with 13:42 to go on an Ashton Pankey layup and were still within four with three minutes left. But Hampton managed to hold the Jaspers scoreless for more than three minutes down the stretch, and by the time Manhattan ended that streak, it trailed 68-61 with 54 seconds remaining and never got closer than six the rest of the way.
2. Winning shorthanded
With leading scorer and rebounder Dwight Meikle already sidelined with an ankle injury, the Pirates got a stellar 15-point, 13-rebound performance from senior Quinton Chievous before he too went down with an injury. Its severity is not yet known, but he had to be helped off the court and didn’t return, which would seem to make it unlikely that he will be able to play on Thursday against top-seeded Kentucky. Chievous went down late in the second half and with Hampton in front just 62-58. His teammates picked him up in more ways than one, making all the key plays down the stretch to become just the seventh team with a losing record to win a tournament game.
3. To have a shot, make shots
Hampton entered Tuesday’s game shooting 40.8 percent from the field for the season and 30.4 percent from three, yet managed to make 49.1 and 42.7 percent, respectively, against the Jaspers. The Pirates might need to combine that output to have a chance at beating Kentucky, which allows a nation’s best 35.5 percent shooting. They certainly can’t afford to shoot just 55.9 percent from the free throw line again. Points will be hard to come by against the long and active Wildcats, and Hampton will have to capitalize on its trips to the line to even keep the game respectable in the first half. The Pirates were the better team on Tuesday. They won’t be on Thursday, but they may yet wind up being a footnote to history.
4. Time to walk the plank
One way or another Hampton, will make history on Thursday. Either it will pull off the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament against the 34-0 Wildcats, or it will become Kentucky’s 35th consecutive victim, which would allow UK to match Wichita State’s record 35-0 start from last season. Bet on the latter.
Against the comparatively lukewarm pressure applied by Manhattan, the Pirates committed 14 turnovers. They might have that many by halftime against the Wildcats. And with Chievous appearing unlikely to play and 6’10” center Phillip Reed having not played since mid-February, there will be little to prevent Kentucky’s seemingly unlimited roster of giants from dominating in the paint on both ends. Hampton lost the rebounding battle by four to the Jaspers; it won’t be anywhere near that close against the Wildcats.