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Hampton wins 2016 MEAC basketball tournament: Pirates clinch NCAA Tournament berth

The Pirates pulled away from South Carolina State in the closing minutes to win the MEAC.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Top seed Hampton won the MEAC's 2016 men's basketball tournament on Saturday, beating South Carolina State by an 81-69 score in the conference championship game in Norfolk, Va. The Pirates clinched their sixth ever NCAA Tournament berth and will look to upset a higher NCAA seed next weekend.

The game was closer than its final score Hampton pulled away in the final few minutes after an up-an-down contest. It swung back and forth but was mostly close throughout. The teams went to halftime tied 39-39, but South Carolina State ran out to a 51-42 lead in the first five minutes after the break. Hampton stormed all the way back over the next five minutes to tie the score. The teams were even with five minutes to play, setting up a frenetic finish with each team's season on the line, and Hampton made more shots down the stretch.

The Pirates benefited from a balanced scoring attack and veteran leadership. Three senior and graduate guards -- Quinton Chievous, Reggie Johnson and Brian Darden -- combined to score 44 of their 81 points.

Eric Eaves scored a game-high 25 points for South Carolina State in a losing effort.

The Pirates entered the tournament as the clear favorite in an altogether weak year for the MEAC. They narrowly beat Morgan State in a quarterfinal before blowing out Savannah State to reach the final.

South Carolina State won by 10 points against Coppin State in its own quarterfinal before narrowly escaping Norfolk State on Friday to reach the title game.

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