The Spartans weathered a first-half storm from the No. 11 seed Bison and then pulled away in the second period for a 68-53 victory at Scope Arena. NSU advanced to play No. 1 seed North Carolina Central on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the conference title in a live broadcast on ESPN2.
NSU broke through after falling in the semifinals each of the last three years. The Spartans will play in the championship game for the third time in their MEAC history, joining the 2009 squad and the championship team of 2012.
Senior Jonathan Wade scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds to lead Norfolk State (17-15). The Spartans held Howard to 24 percent shooting in the second half and 31 percent overall after outscoring the Bison 40-23 after halftime.
Junior Zaynah Robinson added 16 points in all 40 minutes, while junior Jordan Butler totaled 10 points and 10 rebounds with four blocks for his third double-double of the season. He along with junior Dan Robinson, who grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, helped the Spartans to a 52-35 edge on the glass. The Spartans outscored HU 19-7 in second-chance points.
The Spartans overcame a two-point deficit at the break. After that sluggish first half, in which they shot just 36 percent, they put to rest any notion of another Bison upset.
NSU came out in the second period and outscored Howard 11-3 to open a 39-33 lead. The Spartans extended their advantage to 48-37 after Robinson made a nice bounce pass to Wade on the break and then sank a 3-pointer of his own with more than 10 minutes to go.
Sophomore Alex Long's putback with 7:24 left made it a 56-44 ballgame, a score that stayed the same for three and a half minutes until Robinson made two from the free throw line after the under-4 media break. Howard did not score for five minutes during that time and trailed by as much as 18 late in the contest.
The Bison's dry spell included a crowd-roaring block by Butler with three minutes left when he got way up to stuff HU's James Miller on a potential dunk in transition.
Howard (10-24) knocked off No. 6 seed Coppin State and No. 3 seed Morgan State to advance to the semifinal. But just like their 2012 championship team, when they also were the No. 2 seed, the Spartans again defeated an 11th seed for a spot in the title game.
Charles Williams led Howard with 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Miller and Damon Collins each scored 11 points as well.
NSU built a 9-3 lead to start the game before Williams scored eight straight for Howard to start a 15-4 run. The Bison led 18-13 after that spurt with 9:14 on the clock before senior Kerwin Okoro drained a 3-pointer from the right wing. But Solomon Mangham and Collins answered with long range shots on the other end to keep Howard in the lead.
It did not last, as two buckets by Butler and a 3-pointer from Wade in the right corner with three minutes to go put NSU back ahead by one. Late in the half, Williams and Wade exchanged transition buckets, and Tyler Stone got a shot to go with time ticking down to give the Bison a two-point lead at the break, 30-28.
Norfolk State shot 23-of-58 from the floor (39.7 percent) while holding the Bison to 19-of-61 (31.1 percent).
Okoro tallied eight points, four assists and three rebounds. Junior Bryan Gellineau chipped in with five points and seven boards.
Each team had nine blocks. NSU also stayed out of foul trouble for the most part, as Howard made 8-of-15 from the line after coming into the night averaging more than 16 makes a game.