NORFOLK, Va. -- For much of the game, his play was more of a liability, but at the end, Morgan State's Marcus Sheffield made the shot that counted most.
Sheffield's 18-foot jumper at the buzzer gave seventh-seeded Morgan a 73-72 upset of second-seeded South Carolina State in the first round of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament at The Scope.
It was perhaps the biggest win in recent years for Morgan, which started the season with 14 straight losses. The victory advanced the Bears (7-21) to tonight's semifinal against third-seeded Delaware State and broke an 11-game Morgan losing streak against the Bulldogs (13-15).
"This was a big win because this program, with all the sports, has been struggling for a long time," said Sheffield, who was mobbed by Morgan fans at half-court after the shot. "It was definitely the biggest shot I've ever made. It puts us in the semifinals, where we were two years ago."
The winning shot saved Morgan the embarrassment of blowing a 71-65 lead with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left. The Bears were hurt by turnovers and sloppy ball-handling, as the Bulldogs scored seven straight -- the last two on free throws by Chris Felix -- with 11 seconds left.
After Morgan State got the ball to half-court and called timeout with seven seconds left, Morgan's James McCoy (14 points) drove the lane, but the ball was knocked out of bounds with three seconds left.
The ball was inbounded to Sheffield, who caught it just outside the three-point line. He faked a shot, dribbled twice to his left and made the winning jumper.
"When I caught the ball, [Glenn] Smith said shoot," said Sheffield, who scored 10. "Somebody was right on me, so I just moved a little and got open for the shot."
One of those jumping the highest after the shot was first-year Morgan coach Michael Holmes.
"We worked all season, through all the early losses, for this moment," Holmes said. "We were trying to improve attitude and performance all year, and getting ready for this tournament was our ultimate objective. We wanted to be competitive going into the tournament."
And they were just that from the outset, taking a 39-33 halftime lead as they shot 62.5 percent from the field. But Sheffield scored just four points and pulled one rebound in eight minutes.
"At the beginning, he was just playing bad," Holmes said. "I'm glad he got going."
It took a while. The Bears hit a drought to start the second half, with the Bulldogs scoring 16 straight to take a 48-39 lead. It was a game of spurts the rest of the way, with Morgan taking a 71-65 lead with 2:12 left that would later dissolve -- setting up Sheffield's winning shot.
Smith led Morgan with 21 points. Travis Williams had 30 for the Bulldogs.
It was Morgan's first win over South Carolina State since the 13th game of the 1985-86 season, when the Bears recorded a 53-50 win. It also avenged a 71-69 loss to South Carolina State in the MEAC tournament in 1989 -- the Bears' last appearance in the semifinals.
"I wasn't the centerpiece back then, and I'm not now -- this is a group thing," said Sheffield, one of the holdovers from that team. "You have to really strive for something like this. This is a big accomplishment for the team."