Bowie loses regional final despite big rally

Virginia Union rides 21-point halftime bulge to Div. II's elite eight, 70-64

College Basketball

March 16, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

BOWIE - The vibrations were bad for Bowie State even before the opening tip-off.

The Bulldogs were hit with a technical foul for dunking in warm-ups, Luqman Jaaber made both free throws, and then Duan Crockett scored off the jump ball to give Virginia Union a hasty 4-0 lead.

Matters only turned worse for Bowie in the first half and Virginia Union parlayed its early momentum into a 70-64 victory and the Division II South Atlantic Regional championship before an overflow crowd at A.C. Jordan Arena.

The outcome marked the second important success for the Panthers, who also won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament. They advance to Division II's Elite Eight, which convenes March 23 in Grand Forks, N.D.

"We didn't seem to relax," Bowie coach Luke D'Alessio said of a first half after which his team trailed by 21 points. "They seemed more energized and we were a half-step slow for some reason. I haven't seen our team play like that in a long time. I didn't expect it."

Nationally third-ranked Bowie spent the first 20 minutes either clanging three-point attempts off the iron or trying to force the ball into their workhorse, Letheal Cook, often with dire results. Virginia Union's quickness produced six first-half steals and the Panthers also collared 12 offensive rebounds in an impressive display of basketball.

"We just wanted to come out with a lot of energy," said Jaaber, the Panthers' point guard. "Get their big guys running so they'd get a little tired."

Bowie, which finished with a 26-5 record, made the anticipated run at its archrival after the break as Cook comandeered the charge. With Virginia Union trying to whittle away the clock, the Bulldogs fought back from a 20-point deficit to within 60-56 with 2:32 remaining.

But Panthers guard Darius Hargrove checked that momentum with a clutch three-pointer from the corner and the Bulldogs never threatened again.

"They were doubling down on Antwan [Walton]," said Hargrove. "I didn't even think about it [shooting]."

It was the seventh South Atlantic championship for Virginia Union (27-4), which had lost to Bowie twice during the regular season, once in overtime on the same court.

"Sometimes, when you play at home, you think you can just show up," said D'Alessio. "They got us frustrated. We had some difficulties doing what we're supposed to on the scouting report. We could have given up and taken a beating, but we did the best we could coming back."

Cook, an All-American, completed his Bowie career with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He was the only Bulldog on the all-tournament team with Jaaber, Crockett and Hargrove.

"I really thought Bowie could win the national championship with the personnel they have," said Panthers coach Dave Robbins. "I don't know if we can because size hurts us so bad. But now we get our first chance since the 1998 Final Four."

VIRGINIA UNION - Jaaber 2-9 5-5 9, Crockett 7-12 4-4 18, Walton 5-11 2-2 12, Brown 7-12 0-0 14, Hargrove 5-13 1-2 13, Kidd 0-5 0-0 0, Moore 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 28-66 12-15 70. BOWIE STATE - Cook 11-17 1-3 23, Payne 4-9 0-1 8, Johnson 4-12 1-3 10, Bell 3-11 1-1 8, Konate 3-7 0-0 7, Holloway 0-1 0-0 0, Cosby 0-0 0-0 0, Campbell 1-8 0-0 3, Watson 2-3 1-1 5. Totals 28-68 4-9 64. Halftime - Virginia Union, 41-20. Rebounds - Virginia Union 41 (Walton 11), Bowie State 43 (Cook 12). Assists - Virginia Union 7 (Jaaber 3), Bowie State 18 (Bell 6). A - 4,000.

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