Ed Joyner had Jesus on speed dial after Hampton knocked off Manhattan in the NCAA Tournament First Round on Tuesday night. The messiah answered, but once the Pirates’ head coach asked about his team’s chances of knocking off their next opponent, undefeated Kentucky, Jesus hung up on him.
At least, that’s the story Joyner told in the post game press conference.
It comes with Hampton basketball’s new standing in the hoops world: Straight underdog status, the term guard Reggie Johnson used to describe his team’s upcoming game against Kentucky.
After defeating Manhattan 74-64, the Pirates will now try and pull off one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history and hand the No. 1 seed Wildcats their first loss of the season.
“We got nothing to lose,” Joyner said. “We’re gonna’ go out and play, try to execute our game plan and try to win the game.”
Against the offensive juggernaut that head coach John Calipari has assembled down in Lexington, Joyner may need Jesus on his side to simply have a prayer against the Wildcats.
Led by future lottery picks Will Cauley-Stein (7’) and Karl Anthony-Town (6’11”), the Wildcats went 34-0 in the regular season, winning all 18 games in conference play before taking home the conference tournament title.
“They have nine or ten pros over there, so we’re just gonna’ try and make every shot hard and make them play a little defense by moving the ball and keeping them off the glass,” Joyner said.
With Kentucky’s roster full of NBA-talent, led by their twin towers up front, Joyner’s front court will have its hands full. But according to their head coach, Hampton isn’t intimidated.
“The biggest parts of it will be Jervon (Pressley) and Emmanuel (Okoroba) and Charles (Wilson-Fisher),” said Joyner. “Quinton (Chievous) will also be in there, but of course he’s well on the side. Those three guys are gonna’ have to go battle their tails off and hopefully try and contain them a little bit,” said Johnson. “I think it’s going to be very important. It’s gonna’ be important for them to stay out of foul trouble, one, and to go at them and make them play defense as well.”
Chievous, who recorded a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds against the Jaspers before getting injured, acknowledged the performance of Pressley in the game versus Manhattan. However, he knows the Wildcats are a far different animal than the Jaspers.
“I feel like it’s gonna’ be a lot different because they have so many options in the front court. We just gotta’ go out and play tough,” said Chievous.
Besides the big men the Wildcats possess, they also have a dynamite backcourt. Directed by twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Chievous and Co. will have to limit the opportunities these two are able to create in the offensive end.
“We’re just gonna have to defend,” Joyner said. “They’re definitely talented players, we gotta stay in front of them and make them take tough, contested shots.
“Hopefully they’re missing more than they make.”
Johnson, who recorded 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in the play-in game, will have to spearhead the Pirates back court defense.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity,” he said. “We know those guys are great guards in college basketball and it’s an opportunity for us to come in and play a good game. We’re a guard-heavy team, so it’s gonna be a great game guards-on-guards.”
Joyner is also counting on a big effort from point guard Deron Powers. The 5’11” junior tallied eight points and dished out seven assists against the Jaspers, and will have to use his quickness to get by the Kentucky defense in transition.
Regardless of what happens in the game Thursday night, Chievous is incredibly proud of all that his team has accomplished this year, and thankful for tonight’s opportunity.
“It’s amazing, first off we’re the only team in MEAC history to have two NCAA tournament wins,” he said. “We’re so happy and blessed right now that we got passed the first round and will always be remembered at our school and hopefully we can be remembered even more if something happens against Kentucky,”