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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Norfolk State earns date with No. 1 Gonzaga by edging Appalachian State

Norfolk State guard Kyonze Chavis (55) runs upcourt to celebrate his team's defeat of Appalachian State in a First Four game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Bloomington, Ind.   (Associated Press)

Norfolk State made it look easy in the first half. The second half was just the opposite.

The Spartans blew a 19-point first-half lead before rallying past Appalachian State 54-53 in a wild First Four contest Thursday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.

Norfolk State (17-7) advances to face undefeated Gonzaga, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, at 6:20 p.m. PT Saturday.

Appalachian State, which was 0 of 18 on 3-pointers and committed 10 turnovers while falling behind 36-20 at half, rode a stretch of hot perimeter shooting to move in front 51-45.

The Spartans closed with a 9-2 run in the final five minutes. Devante Carter shook off a rough outing by hitting a pair of clutch free throws with 8.6 seconds left to give the Spartans the lead.

“The message (late) was, this is March Madness,” Norfolk State coach Robert Jones said in a post-game television interview. “No one wants to go home. They told me the flight was leaving (Friday) at 9:30. I told them, I’m not packing. We fought, we fought, we fought.

“We went through a cold spell, but our defense once again, like we’ve said before we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that held up in a dogfight.”

Carter, who averages 15.5 points, scored four points on 1-of-10 shooting. Joe Bryant Jr., second on the team with an 11.6-point average, was 4 of 13 from the field and finished with 10 points.

Jalen Hawkins’ performance off the bench helped Norfolk State overcome Carter’s and Bryant’s struggles. Hawkins made four 3-pointers and scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half. The Robert Morris transfer topped his career high by seven points.

Appalachian State (17-12) never looked comfortable against Norfolk State’s variety of defenses in the opening half. Justin Forrest, who led the Mountaineers with 18 points and hit three of the team’s six second-half 3-pointers, and Michael Almonacy both missed shots in the closing seconds.

(11) UCLA 86, (11) Michigan State 80 (OT): Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 27 points lead the Bruins (17-9) past the Spartans (15-12) in overtime in West Lafayette, Indiana.

UCLA advances to play sixth-seeded BYU on Saturday.

Johnny Juzang added 23 points for the Bruins.

(11) Drake 53, (11) Wichita State 52: Joseph Yesufu scored 21 points and the Bulldogs (26-4) beat the Shockers (16-6) in West Lafayette, Indiana, for Drake’s first NCAA Tournament win in a half-century.

Drake’s previous tournament victory was 50 years ago to the day – March 18, 1971, against Notre Dame.

Tremell Murphy added 11 points for 11th-seeded Drake, which advanced to play sixth-seeded Southern California in the West Region on Saturday.

(16) Texas Southern 60, (16) Mount St. Mary’s 52: John Walker III scored a season-high 19 points and Jordan Gilliam had 12 to help the Tigers (17-8) erase a 10-point halftime deficit and beat the Mountaineers (12-11) in Bloomington, Indiana.

It’s the second straight First Four victory for the Tigers, who also won in 2018 – their most recent tournament appearance.

Texas Southern, the No. 16 seed in the East Region, won its 10th straight game and faces top-seeded Michigan (20-4) on Saturday.