By: Jonathan Kostoff – Staff Writer
Someone has to play the top-seeded and undefeated University of Kentucky Wildcats in Louisville Thursday. Someone has to be the David to take on college basketball’s Golaith.
Hampton University Pirates will face that challenge, in what is assumed to be practically a home game for the Wildcats.
While Hampton travels 639 miles to arrive in Louisville, Kentucky only has to travel 77 miles to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Yum! Center. It is highly doubtful Pirates fans will have any advantage in the arena.
Coach Edward Joyner Jr. had to call Jesus after Tuesday’s win against Manhattan College for some advice for this upcoming game -and even he couldn’t answer how to tame Kentucky.
“Hold on, I told you all I had Jesus on speed dial,” Joyner joked to the media after the win. “Hey, Jesus, first of all, you can’t play, so I ain’t worried about you being hot. They want to know how much of a mountain and what our odds are. Hello? Hello? I guess he’ll get back to me; I’ll get back to you.”
History isn’t on the side of Hampton University either, which defeated Manhattan College 74-64 in the first game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament Tuesday at the University of Dayton Arena.
A 16-seed has never pulled the upset over a No. 1 seed. The average margin of victory in those games is 24.8 points. Close games in the one versus 16 format are few and far between. Will Hampton University be the first to break with history? They’ve certainly done something close before.
The Pirates are one of only seven schools to knock off a 2-seed as a 15-seed in the Round of 64 since the tournament expanded to feature 64 teams in 1985. The tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011.
The only advantage the Pirates have going in is experience in the NCAA Tournament after winning its second tournament game in school history, its first since knocking off 2-seed Iowa State University in 2001.
They also have the confidence to at least compete with the nation’s top team.
“Really just going in with a great mindset,” senior guard Quinton Chievous said. “Not being intimidated and just playing as hard as we can … When adversity hits us in the game, we can’t get down on ourselves.”
After picking up the first basket 49 seconds in,the Pirates led the rest of the game. Hampton, paced by University of Tennessee transfer guard Chievous, who had a double-double in the first half, finished the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Chievous, as well as junior guard Reginald Johnson, who scored seven of the first 10 points to open the game, helped the Pirates build a double-digit lead at halftime that eventually was cut to seven going into the half. Chievous was forced to leave the game after a right ankle injury with just under three minutes to play but hopes to play Thursday.
Manhattan battled back and cut the lead down to one with just under 14 minutes to play, but Hampton never relinquished the lead. They came together and battled through the adversity.
“We all came together,” junior guard Brian Darden said. “We realized we had to pick it up. We had to pick it up on defense, rebounding, making sure everybody was talking.”
The Pirates forced the Jaspers of Manhattan into 17 turnovers and a measly 37 field goal percent from the floor, but solid defense is nothing new for this team.
The Pirates kept Manhattan big man and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference MVP Ashton Pankey in check. The 6-foot-10 junior only scored nine points shooting three of 11 from the floor. He was limited to 16 minutes after picking up his fourth foul eight minutes into the second half.
Now the world waits for Thursday to see if Jesus can help the Pirates do the unthinkable.
The game will air Thursday at 9:40 p.m. on CBS. For more sports updates, follow @FlyerNews on Twitter.