After starting the season 1-5, 8-14 and 12-17, the Hampton Pirates didn’t exactly seem like a team that was going to make the NCAA Tournament, much less win a game if they got there.
Well, they got there, beating Delaware State, 82-61, in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday to improve to 16-17.
That’s right: a losing team in the NCAA Tournament.
Hampton beat heavily favored Manhattan, 74-64, at the University of Dayton on Tuesday. The Pirates advance to face No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET.
“It’s crazy right now,” Hampton guard Deron Powers said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I don’t think we even understand what’s happened.”
Hampton led Manhattan from start to finish, scoring the first seven points of the game and leading by as many as 12 in the first half. Manhattan (19-14) closed the gap in the second half, but Hampton (17-17) hung on for the win.
“We don’t really pay attention to the records,” Powers said. “Every time we step out onto the court, we’re going to play our game. We’re going to take it to everybody we play against. Whether it’s Kentucky or the worst team in the country, we’re going to take it to them all the same.”
Hampton starts four guards, including Quinton Chievous, who scored a team-high 15 points, and Reginald Johnson and Brian Darden, who scored 13 apiece. Powers, meanwhile, had eight points and a game-high seven assists.
“We’re a gritty team,” Powers said. “We’re going to play tough every game.”
Powers credited forwards Jervon Pressley, Charles Wilson-Fisher and Emmanuel Okoroba for winning the game – even though that trio combined for just 16 of Hampton’s 74 points.
“I feel like our bigs are a big, big part of why we’re winning right now,” Powers said. “Even though they’re not getting the hype (that comes with) scoring, they are defending good bigs every game that we played. That is key to our winning right now.”
Hampton, which has won five straight games, won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2001, when it shocked No. 2 Iowa State in the first round.
“To actually be in the NCAA Tournament and to actually be here, it’s a humbling experience,” Powers said. “It’s scary, but it’s exciting at the same time.”
Underdogs against Manhattan, the Pirates will be massive underdogs against Kentucky (34-0, 18-0), the top seed in the tournament. Powers, however, doesn’t seem concerned.
“We don’t do too much talking,” he said. “We’re going to see. We ain’t going to do much talking. We’re going to do it on the court.”
To beat Kentucky, Hampton will need to shoot even better than the 49.1 percent it shot against Manhattan. It will also have to be far more efficient at the foul line, where the Pirates were just 19-of-34 (55.9 percent).
Still, Powers believes Hampton actually has a shot to hang with the Wildcats.
“We’re going to see,” he said. “We’re going to test our bigs against their bigs, our guards against their guards. It’s going to be a war out there.”