Post No. XI: This Is SPARTA!

The Norfolk State Spartans are having a banner year this year. Following Monday’s 72-60 road victory against Maryland Eastern Shore, their record stands at 17-8 overall and they are 9-2 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, good for sole possession of first place.

Norfolk State's Marcos Tamares (32) takes it strong against Kevin Thompson in the Spartans' recent defeat of Morgan State. Photo by Ross Taylor, courtesy of pilotonline.com.

To put this in perspective, 17 wins is the team’s highest total since the Spartans began Division I play in the 1997-1998 season.  Shortly before the transition to Division I, Norfolk State enjoyed a high level of success in Division II competition, going 27-6 in both the 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 seasons.  The Spartans advanced to the Division II Elite Eight in 1994, and made it to the Final Four in 1995.  Incidentally, those Spartan squads were coached by Michael Bernard, who is currently on the coaching staff at Delaware State University, one of the Spartans’ MEAC rivals.

This year’s Spartans have a chance to set the school mark for MEAC wins.  Five previous Spartan teams have won 11 conference games in the MEAC; this mark was most recently accomplished in 2007-2008 during current coach Anthony Evans’ first season at the helm.  This year’s team could bring NSU its first regular season MEAC title and stands an excellent chance to win the MEAC tournament and earn the school’s first berth in the Division I NCAA tournament (let’s hope there’s no It Goes to XI jinx).  The Spartans have appeared in the MEAC tournament final only once, falling to Morgan State 83-69 in the 2009 championship game.

Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn slams home two of his 1,425 career points. Photo by Ross Taylor, courtesy of pilotonline.com.

The Spartans are led this year by 6-10 senior center Kyle O’Quinn.  O’Quinn was last year’s MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named first-team all-conference. For the season, O’Quinn is averaging a double-double (16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game).  He entered this year with 1,035 career points; through Saturday’s game, O’Quinn stood at 1,425 for his career, placing him 18th on NSU’s all-time list.  He also began the season as NSU’s career leader in blocked shots with 186, and has tacked on 61 more during his senior year, ranking him 25th in Division I this season with a 2.5 block-per-game average.

The team’s second-leading scorer and leading long-range threat is Norview High graduate Chris McEachin, who began his collegiate career at Radford.  McEachin is also one of two Spartan players to have recently lost a tooth during game action.

Local fans looking to hop on the bandwagon this year have three more chances to catch the Spartans at home: Saturday, February 11 against Hampton (a likely sell-out at Echols Hall), Wednesday, February 15 against Delaware State, and Monday, February 20 in a non-conference game against Longwood.  As an added bonus, you can even ride the Tide to the game!

Congratulations to the Spartans on their success so far this season; here’s hoping that they will punch their ticket to the Big Dance!

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