The South Carolina State Bulldogs dropped a tough conference opener to the defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Champion Norfolk State 78-72 Monday at Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center.
The Spartans were led by red-shirt junior forward Malcolm Hawkins with a game-high 21 points and five rebounds, while senior Rob Johnson finished with 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the victory.
The first-half was close throughout with Norfolk jumping ahead 23-21 off a 3-pointer by junior guard Kievyn Lila-St. Rose at the 9:01 mark. Red-shirt senior guard Kris Brown nailed a 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining in the half, to put the Spartans ahead seven, 27-34.
Johnson and Hawkins nailed back-to-back 3-pointers with 0:32 seconds remaining to give Norfolk State its biggest lead of the half 12, 40-28. The Spartans closed out the first-half with a 40-28 advantage over the Bulldogs.
The Spartans opened up the second-half pounding away increase the lead to 19, 49-30 off layups from Hawkins and Brown at the 15:10 mark. SC State would not be denied cutting the lead to two, off a pair of free-throws by junior center Matthew Hezekiah and guard Adama "Louis" Adams with 6:56 left in the contest.
A layup by junior forward/center Brandon Goode gave Norfolk the lead they were looking for 12, 65-53 with 3:44 left in regulation. SC State battled back to within four, 73-69 when Palmer nailed a 3-pointer from deep in the corner with 0:44 seconds left.
Free-throws were the deciding factor down the stretch as Norfolk shot 66.7% from the free-throw line knocking down 22-of-33 on the night. Despite, the costly 16 turnovers the Spartans managed to out-rebound the Bulldogs 43-41 to edge out the victory.
Norfolk State improves to 5-5 overall, 2-0 in the MEAC, while SC State falls to 4-4 overall, 0-1 in the league. Adams finished with 10 points for the Bulldogs, while Goode dominated the frontcourt with 16 points and six rebounds.
SC State will embark on eight straight road games, including five "guaranteed" games against Upper Division I foes Maryland (Dec. 8), Missouri (Dec. 17), Iowa (Dec. 19), Clemson (Dec. 23) and South Carolina (Jan. 5).