Nickelberry Has Hampton Back On Track

By Tony McClean
Updated: December 5, 2007
NEW YORK — Here’s an early note to all black college hoop fans. After a struggling season (15-16, 10-8 MEAC in 2006-07) under first year head coach Kevin Nickelberry, the Hampton Pirates appear to be ready to be one of the nation’s elite teams again.

Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Nickelberry’s Pirates (4-3) put on an impressive performance in their 65-31 thrashing of Howard University in the second half of the Big Apple Classic doubleheader.

The Pirates, who won their third straight, jumped out to an 11-3 lead and never looked back. They led by as many as 15 in the first half and held the Bison to a season low 13 first half points with a 28-13 halftime advantage.

In last year’s inaugural Classic when the teams met, Hampton was coming off a grueling four-game, seven-day stretch and were upset by the Bison. This year, the Pirates entered the game with wins at Delaware and a home win against Virginia Commonwealth.

“The game plan was to take away some of things they have been doing and take them out of their element,” said Nickelberry. “Last year, we played at their tempo and it costs us. In tonight’s (Saturday’s) game, we were able to dictate tempo early and that was the difference.”

Hampton’s swarming defense made it seem like the Pirates were playing with eight men on the court against the young Bison. Hampton scored 34 points off 28 Howard turnovers, 28 points in the paint, 15 second chance points, and 20 points from their bench players in the victory.

Hampton also put the clamps on Howard’s leading scorer Eugene Myatt, who torched them for 28 points in last year’s win. The 6-5 junior was held to seven points, almost 13 under his average. It was also the first time this season that he has failed to reach double figures.

Despite shooting just over 38 percent from the floor (25-of-65 for 38.6%) and 28 percent from beyond the three point arc (25-of-65 for 38.6%), the Pirates easily out rebounded the Bison 60-27.

“The turnovers were a big part of the game,” said Howard Coach Gil Jackson. “You can’t turn the ball over like that against a team the quality of Hampton and expect to have a chance to win. But that was not the only problem. We had problems on offense in execution and on defense.”

Hampton was led by senior guard Rashad West, who scored a game-high 18 points, and forward Matthew Pilgrim, who added 11 points. Pilgrim, who pulled down 15 rebounds in during the three-game win streak, was just named the MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Even in their losses, the Pirates has been have been very competitive. They lost by six points on the road at Maryland (70-64) and Kent State (77-71), and fell to Holy Cross at home by eight (60-52).

In last year’s Big Apple Classic, the Panthers of Virginia Union easily defeated their CIAA foes from Bowie State. A year later, the game was a little closer but the outcome was still the same as VUU coasted to a 76-65 win in their season opener at MSG.

The Bulldogs shot a season-low 30 percent from the field, combined with a 12-0 VUU run with just over 14 minutes in the first half, contributed to the Panthers’ victory. The game began with a 6-1 Union run and the Panthers expanded that lead to 17-10 by the 13:26 mark.

VUU stretched the lead to 27-12, but the Bulldogs battled back to close the gap to 34-27 by halftime. Bowie State could get no closer that nine points in the second half (62-53) and continued to struggle from the floor.
Brad and Brandon Byerson led VUU with 18 points apiece and Gregg Thondique pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. Bowie State was led by Christian Jackson with 18 points and Arthur Bowers along with Curtis Massey added 11 points each.

Massey also led BSU with nine rebounds.