High-flying Bowie focuses on soaring in quarterfinals

Massachusetts-Lowell stands in Bulldogs' way

March 26, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

LAKELAND, Fla. - A school that had never produced a winning record in men's basketball until the advent of the millennium begins to reach for the stars today.

After enduring 23 consecutive losing seasons, Bowie State seeks to climax a meteoric three-year rise in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight tournament at Florida Southern College's Jenkins Arena.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and South Atlantic Regional champion will launch its quest for the division's national title against the Northeast Regional representative, Massachusetts-Lowell, at noon.

"With the team we had, we'd thought we'd go far," said Bowie forward Stephen Moss-Kelley. "Now that it's actually happened, it's like a dream."

Bowie (29-4), ranked No. 10, brings a host of assets into the tournament: three talented big men led by All-America candidate Tim Washington, a high-scoring and well-rounded offense and a defense that has peaked for postseason play.

But the road at this level is treacherous.

"We have to take another step," said coach Luke D'Alessio, the architect of the team's amazing turnaround, which has resulted in 68 victories in the past three seasons.

"In the conference, we were playing teams with 10, 11 losses; in the regional, teams with seven, eight or nine. Now, we're in with teams with two, three or four. We have to go up one more notch."

Sixth-ranked Massachusetts-Lowell (28-4) - making its first Elite Eight appearance since 1988, when it won the championship - represents the first hurdle, and if the Bulldogs clear it, they are then looking into a probable meeting with Kentucky Wesleyan (29-3), a perennial power in the division.

"It'll be interesting to see how we measure up against all these big-time teams," said Bowie guard Arthur Lewis. "We've made our other goals - the conference championship, the top 10, the regional.

"Winning the CIAA was such a big event, us against the world. This now is a bonus."

The Bulldogs' strength is their versatility, a trait flashed often in the South Atlantic tournament. Stop the damage in one area and leaks spring up elsewhere for opposing defenses.

All five Bowie starters average in double figures and are capable of scoring 20 points in any particular game.

Washington had a career-high 39 points against Lenoir-Rhyne, the only team that chose not to double down against him. Everybody frolicked, with Jon Smith scoring 24 points and Cornelius McMurray 20 when Kennesaw (Ga.) State tried to run with the Bulldogs. Then Moss-Kelley hit seven three-pointers in the title-game victory over Presbyterian.

"We can play any style there is," D'Alessio said. "In the past, we would not have won the game we had against Presbyterian - against a zone and a slowdown. When we had to go outside, what we needed was there."

Unlike Bowie, which has nine seniors and four roster members who have been in Division I programs, Massachusetts-Lowell is on the youthful side (two seniors) and boasts an international flavor, with four players from Israel and one each from Switzerland and Canada.

Bowie's players are primarily homegrown, with 10 from either the Baltimore or Washington areas.

Elad Inbar (15.7 ppg, 7 rpg), a 6-foot-7 forward from Kiryat Haim in Israel, is the leading light for the River Hawks, who are slightly smaller than the Bulldogs, but boast a nine-man rotation.

"They're really good," D'Alessio said. "They're not quite as athletic as we are, but they play a flex offense and different defenses."

Washington, who has a chance to be the Division II Player of the Year if Bowie goes all the way, tops the Bulldogs' parade with a 20.1 scoring and 9.4 rebound average. And he is one assist shy of being second to point guard McMurray in feeds.

One of Bowie's favorite plays is Washington - when defenders gang up on him - dishing to Smith for a resounding slam.

"We have a good advantage because of our frontcourt," Moss-Kelley said. "Any of the three of us can put up big numbers on any given night. That's the big key."

Bowie today

Matchup:Bowie State (29-4) vs. Massachusetts-Lowell (28-4) in NCAA Division II national quarterfinals

Site:Jenkins Arena, Lakeland, Fla.

Time:Noon

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