Three years under head coach David Six, three titles.

The Hampton University women’s basketball team won its third straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament title—and the resulting automatic NCAA bid—with a 54-53 nail-biting win over Howard on March 10 at the Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Lady Pirates (26-4) are the first women’s team to win three straight MEAC tournament titles since Howard (1996-98), and have won six total MEAC tournament crowns.

Hampton has also won 11 straight games overall and seven straight against the Lady Bison. Senior guard Jericka Jenkins (Lancaster, Texas), the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the Lady Pirates with 14 points and five assists. Sophomore forward Alyssa Bennett (Hampton, Va.) added 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Junior forward Keiara Avant (Chesapeake, Va.) recorded her fifth double-double in her last seven games, pouring in 10 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds. Junior forward Ariel Phelps (Virginia Beach, Va.) also grabbed 12 rebounds, while adding nine points from the bench.

Junior guard Tamoria Holmes gave Howard (24-8) a 53-52 lead with 1:35 to play on a converted jump shot, before Jenkins gave the lead back to Hampton at the 1:19 mark with a pair of free throws that wound up being the final points of the contest.

Howard had two chances to take the lead in the final 16 seconds; following a Lady Pirates turnover, Holmes drove the lane and threw the ball against the glass, only to have it clang off the rim. Then, with three seconds on the clock, Holmes tried a driving layup again.

This time, the ball hit the back of the rim and fell into Avant’s outstretched hands as the final buzzer sounded and the Hampton bench erupted in elation.

“I was going to hold the ball until I heard the buzzer sound,” Avant said, “and when I did, I just fell to my knees.”

The Lady Pirates led by as many as 10 on four different occasions in the second half, the latest coming with 8:28 remaining when Bennett gave Hampton a 49-39 lead with a layup. Howard then scored 10 unanswered points to tie the game at 49-49 with 3:31 left after a free throw from junior forward Saadia Doyle. Jenkins put Hampton back on top 51-49 with a jumper, but the final 2:37 saw two ties and two lead changes.

“Give Howard credit,” said Six, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Coach. “It was a great game for a championship. I think I aged 10 years.”

Hampton shot 40.9 percent (18-for-44) from the floor and hit 16 of their 22 free throws (72.7 percent). The Lady Pirates also held a 40-28 advantage on the glass, despite Howard holding a 19-13 edge in second-chance points.

The Lady Pirates outscored Howard in the paint 22-16, and the Lady Bison shot just 33.3 percent (18-for-54) from the floor and hit just four of their 14 3-pointers. Howard only turned the ball over eight times, while turning 17 Hampton turnovers into 15 points.

Holmes led Howard with 20 points, despite going just 7-for-20 from the floor. Doyle, the Preseason Player of the Year, added 16 points.

The Lady Pirates will discover their first-round NCAA opponent, date and location March 12, when the 64-team field is announced on ESPN at 7 p.m. EST.

Jeff Cunningham

Special to the AFRO