NORFOLK- Jamel Fuentes broke a 59-59 tie on a putback with 44.6 seconds left, and the Norfolk State men's basketball team improved to 14-0 in the MEAC after surviving Bethune-Cookman's upset bid in a 62-61 win over B-CU Saturday night at Joseph Echols Hall.
The pesky Wildcats led for most of the latter part of the second half and had the Spartans on the ropes. A back-and-forth game – 12 lead changes altogether in the second half – eventually led to a 55-53 NSU advantage with 2:59 to go after junior Malcolm Hawkins pulled up for a big 3-pointer from the right wing.
B-CU's Kevin Dukes quickly quieted the roaring crowd with a trey of his own, but junior Brandon Goode came up big with a tip-in on NSU's next possession with 2:19 left. Down 57-56, Bethune-Cookman (12-17, 7-7) got another big 3-pointer, this time from Paul Scotland, to put the Spartans in a precarious spot with less than two minutes left.
Freshman Rashid Gaston's putback layup tied it up at 59-59 with a minute and a half left, and Fuentes grabbed an offensive rebound on the team's next possession and drove straight to the hoop for two when the seas parted for B-CU on defense.
Adrien Coleman was unable to convert a layup with 21 seconds left but was successful on a second attempt with 8.4 on the clock after Hawkins had hit 1-of-2 from the foul line. Junior Pendarvis Williams missed both free throws with about six seconds left, but the Wildcats were unable to bring the ball up court and get a shot off before the clock expired.
NSU won its 13th in a row, extending its Division I record in the process, and improved to 19-10 overall. The Spartans need one more win over the last two regular season games to lock up the No. 1 seed in the MEAC tournament. The Spartans stayed a game ahead of North Carolina Central (13-1).
Williams was one of four players in double figures for NSU with 14 on 5-of-8 shooting, including a perfect 3-of-3 from the 3-point line. Gaston came up big for NSU off the bench with a 10-point, 11-rebound effort.
Fuentes also had a big game with 10 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists, while Hawkins added 13 points.
Scotland led B-CU with 16 points, with 12 in the second half alone, to go with four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Dukes and Coleman each added 12.
Neither team shot particularly well, with NSU hitting 21-of-58 (36.2 percent) and B-CU connecting on 20-of-58 (34.5 percent). The Spartans also shot themselves in the foot by going 16-of-33 from the free throw line.
The Spartans jumped out to a 12-4 lead to start the game, but a quick 7-0 run by the Wildcats prevented NSU from extended its lead into double digits. The Spartans answered right back, holding Bethune-Cookman to just one basket over a six-minute period during a 12-3 run.
B-CU hit all four free throw attempts near the end of the half to cut the NSU lead to five, 27-22.
After two free throws from Fuentes gave the Spartans a nine-point advantage in the second half, the Wildcats used a 12-3 run over a four-and-a-half minute span to tie it up at 34-34. Neither team led by more than three the rest of the way, with B-CU twice going up by a trey with less than nine minutes left.
Of NSU's 14 conference wins this year, 12 have been by 10 points or less. The Spartans are 14-4 on the season in games decided by 10 or less.