There was no fighting this time around, there were no ejections and the game was not suspended. With Morgan State facing North Carolina A&T with third place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on the line, what the fans at Hill Field House got was a game played in a tournament-like atmosphere.
Unfortunately for the home fans, there was nothing to cheer at the end. After blowing an 11-point first-half lead and staging a furious comeback in the second half, Morgan ended up with a 71-70 loss that knocked it out of third place in the MEAC.
After starting 7-2 in league play, Morgan (8-16) is now 8-7 in the MEAC with one league game to play. North Carolina A&T (13-11), which started the night a half-game behind the Bears, moved into third place with an 8-6 league record.
"Right now we can't concentrate on [Saturday's] Howard game, we have to concentrate on ourselves," said Morgan coach Michael Holmes, whose team has lost six of its past seven games. "We have to worry about giving a better performance."
Especially a better shooting performance. After hitting 51 percent en route to a 35-34 halftime lead, Morgan could barely find the basket in the second half, shooting 37 percent for the game.
Many of those missed came from point-blank range after Morgan's 29 offensive rebounds. The Bears had a 53-37 edge on the boards, but didn't take advantage, hitting just two field goals in one 9 1/2 -minute stretch in the second half.
"If you look at the shot chart, we're missing too many shots close to the basket," Holmes said. "We can't win games if we can't finish. We have to get more scores when we get that close to the basket."
Malik White, who scored 18 and grabbed 15 rebounds, was the only Morgan player who shot 50 percent. The Bears were almost as bad from the free-throw line, where they made 15 of 26 -- missing all three in the last 2:15 of the game.
Morgan actually appeared to have control in the first half. The Aggies got in a hole early, as they were called for two technical fouls for dunking in the pre-game warm-up, and the three resulting free throws by Chico Langston helped the Bears to an 8-0 lead. By the midway point of the first half, the Bears led 25-14 after a layup by Obadiah Johnson.
But for the next 10 minutes, Morgan managed just 10 points. During that time, the Aggies' Jamaine Williams got hot, hitting eight of his 15 first-half points to help A&T pull within 35-34 at the half.
The Bears scored the first five points of the second half, but the game began to change when White, Morgan's 6-foot-11 center, picked up his third foul with 17:17 left. With White unable to aggressively challenge shots, the Aggies scored seven of their next 10 baskets from in the paint during a 22-8 run to go ahead for good, 56-48, with nine minutes left.
The North Carolina A&T lead was 66-60 when the Bears began their final rally. A three-pointer by Langston with 1:34 left made it 66-63. The Aggies later led, 69-65, but Morgan's defense forced a turnover and led to a dunk by Johnson that had the Bears within 69-67 with 18 seconds left.
But it wasn't to be.
When A&T's Brian Seagraves made two free throws with 14 seconds left to make it 71-67, Langston's three-pointer from the top of the key just before the buzzer was meaningless.
"We just couldn't put it together," White said. "We couldn't hit our key shots, we couldn't hit our free throws. That's what kills a team."
It was a game that was played with a lot of intensity, but there was no bad blood from the altercation on Jan. 11 that led to mass ejections, leaving each team with three eligible players before the officials decided to suspend the game. Morgan, leading when play was stopped, later was declared the winner.
"We didn't recall that game at all," White said. "We really didn't know what to expect from them because we hadn't really played them before. We put the fight behind us -- we wanted to show people that we could get along."
At game's end, the teams greeted each other warmly.
"If you look at it, the circumstances are a lot different than last time," Holmes said. "Everybody's trying to prepare for the tournament and everybody's worried about seeding. It was a big game."