Here's the deal; Everyone knew that the winner of the 'First Four' tilt between Hampton and Manhattan was going to be in for a bruising.
That's because undefeated Kentucky was waiting on the next rung of the bracket.
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So forgive Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. for becoming a little bit desperate in the face of the inevitable. His Pirates won their matchup of 16-seeds, defeating the Jaspers 74-64 Wednesday night.
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That means Joyner's team now has a date with destiny's Wildcats. And after saying last week that his team would need "Jesus on speed dial" to beat Kentucky, the ball coach decided now was a good time to seek divine inspiration.
"Hello? Hello?" he said at a postgame news conference after picking up his phone to call Jesus himself. Unfortunately it looks like he didn't get the answer he was hoping for, putting down the phone down, apparently without an answer. "I guess he'll get back to me."
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Reginald Johnson may have scored 15 points, but it was actually two plays on the defensive end that put his Hampton squad ahead for good.
The freshman forward made back to back steals in the waning moments, the second leading to an assisted layup on the other end. That broke the game into a nine point lead - plenty to finish off Manhattan.
Hampton played with four starting guards, and got big contributions from Quinton Chievous (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Brian Darden (13 points, four assists). Manhattan was led by forward Shane Richards, with 17 points, but couldn't keep up after shooting only 37 percent from the field.
The Pirates are without their leading scorer, Dwight Meikle, and could miss having Chievous next game after he was fouled hard with under three minutes left.
Hampton wasn't just the underdog against Manhattan. It was the underdog against the entire NCAA competition field.
After earning an unlikely bid by winning the MEAC final after defeating Delaware State 82-61, the Pirates were ranked 64th out of 64 by the NCAA selection committee. They were only the ninth team to enter the NCAA Tournament with a losing record after finishing the regular season at 16-17.
Even after winning their opener, Hampton remains heavy underdogs against Kentucky. No 16th seed has beaten a top see in the history of the competition. And, aside from a bit of heavenly intervention, it seems unlikely that the Pirates will topple the strongest tournament team in recent memory.
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