Morgan beats S.C. State for 1st time in 3 seasons Bears take step to avoid MEAC play-in game, 80-76

February 25, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Morgan State is trying to avoid a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament play-in game, and last night it took the ++ first positive step toward that goal.

The Bears survived the absence of their tireless senior, Chris Watson, and beat South Carolina State for the first time in three seasons, 80-76, at Hill Field House.

If they can win again Saturday at Howard, they likely will advance to the MEAC quarterfinals in Norfolk, Va., next week.

"We're not in or out of it yet," Bears coach Chris Fuller said. "We don't want to have to figure out anything other than when to get on the bus and go to Norfolk."

The victory was anything but easy for Morgan (8-17, 7-10) against a team it has beaten only twice since 1991-92.

Morgan took the lead for good, 50-47, on a conventional three-point play by Ira Crawley, one of four seniors honored in ceremonies before their final home game.

With another senior, Dwayne Holmes, and junior Tremaine Byrd spearheading the offense, the Bears built their edge to as many as 13 (65-52) before the Bulldogs roared back behind guard Roderick Blakney, the MEAC scoring leader who had 15 points in the final 10 minutes.

"He's a tough chore for anybody," Fuller said of Blakney. "He'll probably be the Player of the Year in our conference."

But Blakney missed a three-point attempt to tie from the right side with eight seconds left and Byrd's free throw three seconds later put it away for Morgan.

Watson is out until at least Saturday with a sprained ankle, so Holmes has taken it upon himself to supply the senior leadership.

"I knew it was time to start stepping things up," said Holmes, who scored a career-high 26, 14 of them in the stretch run. "With Chris missing, we need someone to be the senior."

Said Fuller: "When he is focused and ready, Dwayne can be a dominant player in this conference. He's extremely quick and strong."

Byrd continued his recent surge, adding 25 points last night to the 28 he scored in Saturday's victory over North Carolina A&T.

So, Morgan is building some momentum at the right time.

"We feel good going into the conference tourney," Holmes said. "We want to be the hot team people look out for. Coach told us our main target is to stay away from that play-in game."

South Carolina State (12-13, 11-6) played in the NCAA tournament last year, losing to Kansas in the first round.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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