In a home finale that was symbolic of its topsy-turvy season Morgan State overcame injury and a crowd disturbance to beat Howard University, 77-69, before 6,849 at Hill Field House last night.
The victory gave the Bears (9-7, 9-16) a third-place seeding in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament Thursday in Norfolk, Va. They'll face UMES, a team they've beaten twice this season.
Even though Howard finished the regular season at 9-17, last night's game was anything but a lock for Morgan.
Malik White, their 6-foot-11 center, twisted his right knee slipping on a patch of ice last Monday and was questionable coming into the game.
White didn't start, but he did play, and contributed nine points and 11 rebounds. With White hurting, 6-11 Jarrod Smith gave Morgan a presence inside, and wiry guard Chico Langston gave them a scoring threat outside.
Langston scored 24 points, making four three-point shots. Smith chipped in five points and eight rebounds.
"Chico is always consistent," Morgan State coach Michael Holmes said. "He gives us that every game. Jarrod did an excellent job in the middle, and we haven't had that all year."
The game was still in doubt with six minutes to play. Terrence White had just made two free throws to give Morgan a 62-54 lead when a fight broke out in the upper bleachers across from the Morgan bench. Fans flooded down out of the stands and onto the court, stopping play for 10 minutes until order was restored.
"I expected something was going to happen tonight," White said. "These two teams . . . it was a very competitive game. We played hard and the crowd was into it."
Howard went scoreless for 3:19 after the incident, and Morgan opened up a 14-point lead. Field goals by Wright, Obadiah Johnson and a breakaway dunk by Langston after a steal by Wright made it 68-54.
After Howard's Art Crowder made one of two free throws, Smith converted both ends of a 1-and-1, and Morgan had a 70-55 lead.
Howard's best shot came midway through the second half when Cory Beard made four straight baskets. A turnaround jumper by Charles Solomon cut the Morgan lead to 49-47.
Langston answered with a jumper from the corner. After Solomon missed a shot, White rebounded and Johnson hit a baseline jumper, making it 53-47. Johnson finished with 14 points.
Langston made a three-pointer at 9:57 to give Morgan a seven-point lead.
Howard shot 48 percent from the field, and only 49 percent from the foul line.
Morgan overcame a ragged start to take a 34-26 halftime lead. The Bears were scoreless for the game's first 3:31, missing their first five shots from the field and turning the ball over twice before Langston ended the drought with a three-pointer from the top of the circle.
Down by as many as seven points early, the Bears went in front with a surge from Johnson.
Inserted at the 12-minute mark, Johnson scored seven straight points to put the Bears in front 17-16.
A nifty pass from Langston to Sellers for a layup, and another Langston three-pointer gave Morgan a 29-22 lead.