Reginald Johnson scored 15 points and added two late critical defensive plays to lead Hampton to a 74-64 victory over Manhattan in the First Four on Tuesday night.
The Pirates (17-17), who have won five in a row to get to .500, advance to meet top-ranked Kentucky (34-0) in Louisville on Thursday.
Quinton Chievous added 15 points and 13 rebounds before leaving in the final minutes with an injury.
Brian Darden had 13 points, including clinching free throws down the stretch for the Pirates, who got into the big tournament because of an unexpected run through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament.
Shane Richards scored 17 points and Emmy Andujar 11 for the Jaspers (19-14), champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
A win would have led to a notable second-round matchup. Manhattan coach Steve Masiello is a former Kentucky player.
Hampton, aggressive to the hoop from the outset, never trailed while taking a 38-31 halftime lead. Chievous — averaging just 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds — had 11 and 10 at the break, while Deron Powers had five points and six assists.
The Pirates scored the first seven points — four by Johnson — and built their advantage to 35-23 on Powers’ 3 at the 3:50 mark.
Despite foul trouble — Ashton Pankey picked up his fourth with 12 1/2 minutes left and point guard RaShawn Stores was playing with three — the Jaspers got back into it because of a trapping zone defense and the outside shooting of Richards. They got as close as 46-45 with 13:15 left on Pankey’s floating left-hander in the lane.
With 9 minutes left and Hampton hanging on to a 51-48 lead, Johnson hit a free throw, banked in a 12-footer and assisted on Darden’s baseline jumper for a 56-50 advantage. After a jumper in transition by Darden, the lead was 62-52.
But consecutive gaffes trying to get the ball inbounds by the Pirates helped Manhattan draw to 62-58 with the ball with just over 4 minutes left.
Chievous went down hard after being fouled at the 2:59 mark and appeared to hurt his right ankle. He was helped off the court. Ke’Ron Brown replaced him at the line and hit the second of two free throws to push the lead to five.
The Pirates were already without leading scorer (13.0) and rebounder (7.5), Dwight Meikle. He was sidelined in the opener of the MEAC Tournament with a high ankle sprain.
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. Hampton shocked secondseeded 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 the program’s history.
Manhattan: The Jaspers won’t get a chance to create a bracket racket like they have twice before. Seeded 12th, they surprised No. 5 Florida 75-60 in the 2004 first round, and also pinned fourthseeded Oklahoma with a 77-67 loss in the first round in 1995.
They fell to 3-9 in their eight trips to the NCAAs.
UP NEXT: 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.