HAMPTON, Va. -- Norfolk State struggled from the field early, and from the free-throw line late, but in an eight-minute span to start the second half, the Spartans built just enough of a cushion to outlast Hampton 62-59 Monday before a spirited crowd at the HU Convocation Center.
The Spartans extended their perfect start to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play, improving to 12-0 in the league, 17-10 overall.
The last time Hampton lost, it was to Norfolk State. After that, the Pirates (10-14, 7-4 MEAC) went on a five-game winning streak, including two overtime victories, prior to Monday's defeat.
"This game was the exact way that we've been playing games all year, but the (shots) just didn't fall for us," Hampton coach Ed Joyner Jr. said. "We missed too many free throws at the end."
The Spartans, who completed a sweep of the Pirates in the Battle of the Bay, have four conference games remaining, the last three at home. They are aiming for the top seed in the MEAC tournament, which will be played minutes from their campus in Norfolk this year.
"It's another game that we play, and of course, the rivalry," said Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans, putting the game into perspective. "But we've got to take one game at a time. This game is over, and now we've got to concentrate on the next one."
Malcolm Hawkins led the way for the Spartans with 18 points. Rashid Gaston added 17, and Pendarvis Williams had 11.
Du'Vaughn Maxwell had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Pirates. Ramon Mercado also had 12 points.
The Spartans shot 41.4 percent from the field (24 of 58), but were just 11 of 22 from the free-throw line, keeping the Pirates in the game. It didn't hurt that the Pirates had a 55-35 rebounding advantage over the Spartans, as Hampton shot just 30.4 percent from the field (21 of 69).
Evans said his team had a case of first-half jitters.
"I just think it was the emotion from the rivalry, being on ESPNU, guys taking ill-advised shots, we weren't running the offense, and that's what got us into an early hole," Evans said.
Hampton led by as many as seven points in the first half, and the game was tied 32-32 at halftime, but the Spartans opened a 14-point second half lead midway through the second half.
"We were just trying for one stop at a time and rebound the basketball," Evans said. "(The Pirates) were hurting us on the glass, and that was something that, when we got the lead, we did a good job at."
However, the Pirates did not surrender easily, going on an 11-0 run to close the lead to 59-58 with under three minutes remaining. Maxwell's baby hook shot pulled Hampton within one. The Pirates held on the next Spartans possession and had a chance to take the lead, only for Wesley Dunning to miss an open layup.
Dunning came up with a big defensive play on the Spartans' next possession, blocking a shot. Mercado then had a chance to tie or give the Pirates the lead, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
Williams then made one of two free throws to give the Spartans a 60-58 lead.
The Pirates' Deron Powers made one of two foul shots to slice the lead to one with 56.9 seconds left.
Hawkins hit a layup with 27 seconds left to give the Spartans a 62-59 lead.
Hampton's Ke'Ron Brown missed a 3-pointer and stepped out of bounds on a second attempt with eight seconds left.
After a quick turnover, the Pirates inbounded the ball to Mercado, who missed a 3-pointer from the right corner.
The Spartans' Rob Johnson grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled, but befitting the team's struggles from the line, missed two free throws, giving the Pirates one last chance with less than four seconds left. However, Powers was unable to get off a desperation attempt before the buzzer.
"One thing I do enjoy about this team is that they fight," Joyner said. "I knew that they would be able to fight back. Their spirits never got down."
The Pirates started the game with more energy, if not accuracy, beginning 1-for-10 from the field but gaining an early lead from the free-throw line.
Norfolk State didn't take its first lead of the game until 2:47 remained in the half, going up 32-30. Aaron Austin, who scored all nine of his points in the first half, made a layup with 6.9 seconds left to tie the game going into intermission.
"We couldn't ask for more," Joyner said. "We've just got to get it done. One thing I've got to focus on is don't let this one make us blow the next one."