Morgan's dream ends early, 69-63

March 13, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

The Morgan State Bears, playing their third tournament game in as many days, ran out of storybook endings in losing their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference semifinal contest with South Carolina State, 69-63, on their home court last night.

The eighth-seeded Bears (8-21), who had dreamed the impossible dream of gaining an NCAA tournament berth after upsetting conference powerhouse Coppin State in the quarterfinals Friday night, staged a furious rally to trim an 11-point, second-half deficit to 65-63 on Terry Sellers' three-point shot with 25 seconds left.

But the bubble burst. Sellers fouled Bulldogs guard Bernard Toatley, who converted two pressure free throws with 21 seconds left.

Senior playmaker Chico Langston (19 points), the hero of the Coppin upset, then lost the ball to Jeremy Faulkner, who appeared headed for an easy layup when he was hammered by Sellers. It was ruled a flagrant foul. Faulkner made one of two free throws, but the Bulldogs retained possession, killing any hopes of the Bears staging a last-second miracle, with a Toatley free throw ending the scoring and silencing the partisan sellout crowd of 6,500.

The Bulldogs (16-12) who bounced back from a late-season slump to win tense tournament games against Bethune-Cookman and Morgan, will play North Carolina A&T in the championship game tonight at Baltimore Arena. The Aggies eliminated UMES, 76-73, in the other semifinal.

But Morgan gained far more than it lost in the past three days.

"I think we've got respect for a change," said coach Michael Holmes, whose future with the Bears is in doubt. "We've been down for so long, but, in this tournament, I think we earned the respect of the whole city."

Langston, the inspirational leader from Los Angeles who experienced mostly frustration at Morgan, said: "I'm sure everyone is saying now that it was a fluke that we beat Coppin. But it wasn't luck. And I'll remember the way we came together as a team in this tournament. People have to respect the way we finished our season."

It might have had a spectacular ending if the Bears had managed to get their two big men -- All-MEAC forward Gerald Jordan, 6 feet 10, and freshman center Kevin McCarthy, 6-11 -- more involved in the offense in the first half, which ended with the Bulldogs leading, 32-23.

S.C. State coach Cy Alexander was intent on stopping Jordan, who scored 28 points in an 80-79 Morgan victory Feb. 26 on the Bulldogs' court.

"We double-teamed him almost every time the ball went inside," Alexander said. "And we fronted him to deny him the ball. Miguel Burns, our 6-4 guard, did a good job helping out."

Better than good. Jordan failed to get off a shot in a scoreless first half. He was more aggressive in the second half when he scored 11 points to match his rebounds.

Holmes, of course, saw it differently.

"We couldn't get things done with our inside game because we had four early calls against us, including a couple of charging violations," he said. "It made us turn to our perimeter game, and we didn't have much success with that in the first half."

The Bears were limited to eight field goals on 23 shots in the first half while playing a game of "catch-up" against the well-balanced Bulldogs, who were led by the slashing style of Toatley (15 points) and elusive point guard Deon Murray (13 points).

"I tried to keep my starters fresh, and pulled all of them after the first seven minutes," Holmes said. "We were hyped, but we got in a hole from the beginning, made some turnovers and didn't get high percentage shots. Every time we made a run, they answered back. We didn't get any breaks from the officials, and just didn't have the legs to get the job done."

Holmes, if nothing else, got a vote of confidence from the returning players.

"It was frustrating for it to end this way," said Jordan, the Philadelphia native who sat out two years before getting to play this season.

"We proved we had heart, and if we stick together with coach Holmes, I'm certain we can make this a winning program next year."

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