NSU ends season with CIT championship

Fred Jeter | 4/4/2024, 6 p.m.
There was no place like home this basketball season for Norfolk State University.

There was no place like home this basketball season for Norfolk State University.

The late Joe Echols, a former Spartans coach and administrator, would be proud of the school that named its on-campus facility in his honor. Undefeated at Joe Echols Memorial Hall (aka “The Joe”), NSU completed a 15-0 home ledger March 27 with a 75-67 win over Purdue University Fort Wayne in the finals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament (CIT).

Tournament MVP Christian Ings, a graduate student from Philadelphia, hit seven of nine from the floor and led the scoring with 17 points.

MEAC Player of the Year Jamarii Thomas, a 6-foot junior from Greensboro, had 10 points, five assists and three steals.

Chris Fields, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound freshman from Petersburg, had five points and seven rebounds in the final after collecting 11 points and eight caroms in the semifinal win at Echols over Alabama A&M.

As the overall No. 1 seed, NSU drew a first-round bye.

In the victory over A&M, senior Daryl Anderson — out of Chesterfield’s Millwood School — nailed five three balls and scored 15 points.

Coach Robert Jones’ squad finished its season 24-11 overall and 11-3 in the MEAC. An untimely loss to Howard in the MEAC semifinals denied the Spartans a third NCAA bid in the past four years.

Success at The Joe is nothing new. The Spartans were 10-2 on campus in 2023 and 11-0 in 2022.

NSU’s women enjoyed life at home, too. The Lady Spartans were 10-0 at Echols this season, en route to the MEAC title that was won at Norfolk Scope.

Before Echols opened in 1982, NSU played home games on campus at Gill Gym during the Bob Dandridge and Charles Bonaparte glory era, and briefly at the Norfolk Scope.

The CIT was a nine-team affair this season, with all the action on campus floors. Coincidentally, another Norfolk school, Old Dominion, won the same event in 2009.

While the Spartans played well at home in the CIT, the attendance was disappointing. After averaging 2,364 fans for 15 regular-season games at The Joe, the attendance for the CIT final was 1,676.

There are multiple reports suggesting NSU Coach Jones, a native of Queens, N.Y., is being pursued by the University of Illinois-Chicago of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Coach Jones, who succeeded Anthony Edwards at NSU in 2013, is 212-148 overall with the Spartans, including 124-42 in the MEAC. NSU beat VCU at the Rams’ gym this year — a major victory for Coach Jones’ program.

Coach Edwards, who guided NSU to an NCAA win over Missouri in 2012, left Norfolk for Florida International.

NSU wasn’t the only HBCU with postseason success. Langston University of Oklahoma reached the NAIA finals in Kansas City before falling to Freed Hardeman of Henderson, Tenn.