South Carolina State punctured Morgan State's aura of invincibility at Hill Field House on Monday night and dealt the Bears their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference loss in nearly a year, 71-68.
Led by Jason Flagler's 24 points, the Bulldogs hit 57.1 percent of their shots and held a 12-point lead with 6:39 to play. But Morgan had one final run and narrowly missed pulling off a dramatic comeback when a pair of 3-point shots missed in the final seconds.
The Bears battled foul trouble -- they lost leading scorer Reggie Holmes and DeWayne Jackson in the final minute -- but still got to within 70-68 on a runner by Joe Davis with 21 seconds left.
Both teams missed free throws in the final minute.
"It's a great win on their floor because they're a great team in our conference," South Carolina State coach Tim Carter said. "It's a great win because you don't go on their floor and beat them. We did a tremendous job executing the game plan, but we were frazzled the last two minutes."
It was Morgan's first loss since Feb. 23, when the Bears dropped a 49-47 decision at Hampton, a stretch of 12 wins. In Todd Bozeman's four seasons as Morgan coach, it was only the sixth home loss in 38 games. After the Bulldogs hit 57.1 percent from the field in the first half, Bozeman challenged his team to play better defense. In the second half, South Carolina State hit 57.1 percent again.
"You can't take credit away from them," Bozeman said. "But we didn't defend. We came out in the second half and still didn't defend. It's something that's been nagging at us for awhile."
Down two, Jackson fouled Khalif Toombs with 19 seconds left and the Bulldogs' point guard hit the second of two free throws for a three-point lead. It was the last successful foul shot of the game.
Joe Davis (13 points) missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at 15 seconds and then missed two more at 9.5. The Bears got a break when Brandon Smalls fell out of bounds with the rebound, giving Morgan (19-8, 10-1) one last chance.
But Davis missed a 3-pointer from the right side. In the mad scramble that ensued, Kevin Thompson rebounded and got the ball to Troy Smith on the left side, but Smith's shot missed the mark, too.
"With six minutes to go, I said the team that loses its focus is going to lose," said Carter, whose Bulldogs (14-9, 8-4) were coming off an 18-point loss at Coppin State on Saturday.
The Bears shot just 45.6 percent for the game and only 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
"Even with that, we still had a chance at the end," Bozeman said. "We have nobody to blame but ourselves. How we respond will tell whether this hurts them [his players] or not. How they come back to practice tomorrow will tell me."