DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. had joked he’d need a lot of help if his team advanced to play No. 1 Kentucky.
“Jesus on speed dial,” he kidded.
So after Hampton extended its unlikely run, beating Manhattan 74-64 Tuesday night in the First Four to dial up a date with the mighty Wildcats, Joyner grabbed a cell phone and pretended to make a really, really long-distance call.
“Hello? Hello?” he said at a postgame news conference.
Then he put down the phone, laughed, and said, “I guess he’ll get back to me.”
Reginald Johnson scored 15 points and made two critical defensive plays down the stretch and Quinton Chievous added 15 points and 13 rebounds before leaving with a sprained ankle in the final minutes.
The Pirates (17-17) scored the first seven points, led by as many as 12 in the opening half and then, after Manhattan had rallied within a point, pulled away at the finish.
Johnson sealed the game with two huge steals, the second leading to his floor-length assist pass to Emmanuel Okoroba for a layup. Okoroba then hit a scoop shot on a drive and the lead was 67-58 with 90 seconds remaining. Manhattan (19-14) never threatened again.
The 68th team in a 68-team field, Manhattan won as an underdog yet again.
“We love that. We take that head on,” said Brian Darden, who scored 13 points including clinching free throws at the end. “That’s our image.”
Shane Richards scored 17 points and Emmy Andujar 11 for the Jaspers, champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
“You have to give Hampton credit,” said coach Steve Masiello, who played four years at Kentucky and would have been the center of attention in Louisville had his team won. “I know we’re all caught up in whether they had a losing record, (the fact that) they’re 68th and we’re 67. But they came out and played tonight.”
ABOUT THOSE WILDCATS: Chievous said Hampton will have to have an attitude when it tackles Kentucky.
“It’s really just going in with a great mindset,” he said. “Not being intimidated. And just playing as hard as we can and knocking down all our shots and just never giving up. When adversity hits us, we can’t get down on ourselves. We just gotta keep playing.”
NO LOSERS’ LAMENT: Hampton is the 24th team to make the NCAA Tournament field with a losing record — and became the third in four years to win a game.
The Pirates started the season 1-5, won only two of 10 games during one span in the heart of the schedule, and closed the regular season just 12-17. They won four in a row to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament’s automatic NCAA berth.
“As a team we never stopped believing,” Joyner said. “Yeah, it’s a heck of a reversal for us. We’re happy where we are — and sometimes you gotta go through adversity to get to where you are.”
BIG QUESTION MARKS: Chievous went down hard after being fouled at the 2:59 mark and his team leading 62-58. After he was helped off the court, Ke’Ron Brown replaced him and hit the second of two free throws to push the lead to five — touching off a 6-0 run that put the game away.
The Pirates were already without leading scorer (13.0) and rebounder (7.5), Dwight Meikle. He was sidelined five games ago with a high ankle sprain.
“I just couldn’t go any more, and my team ended up pulling it out,” said Chievous, a Tennessee transfer in his first year with the Pirates. “Hopefully I can keep icing it, get treatment and be ready for Kentucky on Thursday.”
Joyner said Meikle was day to day.
Hampton: No. 15-seeded Hampton shocked second-seeded Iowa State 58-57 in the 2001 tournament’s first round in Boise, Idaho, when Tarvis Williams hit a 4-footer with 6.9 seconds left.
It ranks as the greatest win in program history.
Manhattan: The Jaspers won’t get a chance to create a bracket racket as they have twice before. Seeded 12th, they surprised No. 5 Florida 75-60 in the 2004 first round, and also pinned fourth-seeded Oklahoma with a 77-67 loss in the first round in 1995.
They fell to 3-9 in their eight trips to the NCAAs.
Hampton: Mighty Kentucky awaits.
Manhattan: The Jaspers return two starters, juniors Ashton Pankey who averaged 13.5 ppg and Richards at 13.1, along with several top freshmen and sophomores.