UMES comeback falls just short

March 13, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

The season has been one long comeback story for UMES, and yesterday in the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, the Hawks saved a thrilling comeback for their biggest game of the year.

But the Hawks, whose sizzling outside shooting helped them turn an early 19-point deficit into a tense contest, came up one shot short against North Carolina A&T.

Aaron McKinney's game-tying, three-point attempt, the last of four three-point tries by UMES in the closing seconds, failed to fall, and North Carolina A&T hung on for a 76-73 victory over the Hawks.

The victory sends the third-seeded Aggies (15-13) into tonight's MEAC championship game at the Baltimore Arena against South Carolina State, 69-63 winners over Morgan State last night. The Aggies won seven straight MEAC tournaments in the 1980s, and are making their first appearance in the final in four years. They have won 14 of their last 18 games.

Second-seeded UMES (16-12) also was trying to recapture some old glory. The Hawks, who made their first semifinals appearance in eight years, were trying to win their first MEAC title in 20 years. Instead, they settled for their first winning season in 12 years.

"We accomplished all of the goals we had at the beginning of the season," said UMES coach Rob Chavez, who in two seasons has revived a dormant program.

"We wanted to have our first winning season. We wanted to be in the upper half of the conference. We wanted to win a tournament game. We accomplished all of those things.

"But we still have to grow. We've got to rebound from this [loss]."

The game basically boiled down to the Aggies' bulk against the Hawks' guards. North Carolina A&T's 6-foot-6 center, Thad Young (21 points, 8-for-12 shooting), playing with a separated shoulder, combined with 6-6 freshman forward Joe Bunn (18 points, 7-for-7) to score three times more than the UMES frontcourt of Andre Miller, Kenya Mobley and Travis Griffin.

And the Aggies were no slouches in the backcourt, where guards Tyrone Brice (14 points) and Phillip Allen (19 points, seven steals, four assists) kept the Hawks off balance.

Allen was sensational. His heroics included the shot of the tournament. With 3:35 to play and the shot clock winding down, he swished a desperation 35-footer to give the Aggies a 71-65 lead.

But the Hawks, whose four-guard alignment dragged them out of their first-half hole and helped them turn a 43-34 halftime deficit into a 63-60 lead with 7:50 remaining in the game, took aim one last time.

Mobley converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 71-68. Then, McKinney (14 points) stole a pass at midcourt and found Dale Harrison (21 points) open on the wing. Harrison made a three-pointer to tie the game at 71 with two minutes left.

A minute later, with the score tied at 73, Bunn caught a pass from Allen on the baseline, got fouled while making a layup, then made the free throw to give A&T a 76-73 lead. UMES then saw its season end on the perimeter.

Allison (21 points), Harrison and McKinney each missed three-pointers in one sequence. McKinney's shot barely rimmed out from the corner. Finally, after UMES retained possession and called a timeout with 6 seconds left, the Hawks ran their last

play. Originally designed for Harrison, the ball went to McKinney at the top of the key. McKinney, whose four three-pointers had given UMES a huge lift earlier, double-pumped as Allen rushed at him, then missed a 22-footer as time expired.

"Aaron really stepped up for us tonight. I'm just sorry we couldn't pull through for him," Harrison said. "Both times we played A&T this year [the teams split], Bunn and Young gave us problems. They are so strong and physical. It really hurt us by falling behind early. It took a lot of energy to get back into the game."

It also took rugged defense and outside shooting. UMES forced 25 turnovers, made eight of 24, three-pointers and shot a solid 46.7 percent from the field. Trouble was, North Carolina A&T's shooters started hot and stayed that way. The Aggies also commanded the boards, as they out-rebounded UMES, 31-17. Bunn (13 rebounds) nearly out-rebounded the Hawks himself.

He controlled the boards during a crucial 9-2 run at the end of the first half that put the Aggies back in control, 43-34.

"They jumped on us quickly, and it was like we were staggered," Chavez said. "That run at the end of the first half really hurt us. We were playing catch up the second half."

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