Morgan headed to NCAA tournament for second straight year

Bears beat South Carolina State for MEAC championship

March 14, 2010|By Ken Murray | ken.murray@baltsun.com

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — - Kevin Thompson lived through the culture shock of playing against Oklahoma and Blake Griffin in last year's NCAA tournament. In terms of lessons learned, that experience might have paved the way for Morgan State's return to the big stage.

Thompson punched the ticket for the Bears' second straight trip to the NCAA tournament Saturday, delivering a 68-61 victory over South Carolina State in the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

His dominant performance - 18 points, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots - was his second double double in three games here and earned him the Outstanding Performer award of the tournament. More than that, it might have been the formal coming-out party for the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Walbrook.

In a game in which the Bears (27-9) surged and sagged, took a 10-point lead and gave it up, Thompson was a constant force inside that the smaller Bulldogs (18-14) had no answer for. Even though South Carolina State out-rebounded the Bears 36-32, it was Morgan's relentless inside game that made the difference. In a seven-point victory, the Bears outscored the Bulldogs 34-16 in the paint.

Last March, when the Bears made their first Division I tournament appearance, they suffered a 28-point rout at the hands of Oklahoma and Griffin. Thompson will be a different player when the Bears make their return engagement.

"Griffin was the No. 1 pick in the [ NBA] draft, and he was really strong," Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said. "He showed Kevin what a No. 1 pick in the draft looked like."

Thompson is eager for a second chance, and with good reason.

"We can do something better, we can go further than the first round," he said while Saturday's celebration swirled around him on the court. "I think we're a better team."

Certainly a deeper team. The Bears were most resourceful in the MEAC tournament. Reggie Holmes, the league's Player of the Year, had to play decoy much of the tournament but broke out for 17 points against the Bulldogs. He joined Thompson on the all-tournament team.

Troy Smith didn't make the team, even though his performance said he should have. The guard hit 15 of 20 shots and had seven steals in three tourney games, and contributed at critical junctures in Saturday's game.

"Troy's like an unsung hero," Bozeman said. "He guards the opponent's toughest player, he brings energy in practice, sometimes more than the players want. I'm not sure we'd be here without him."

Smith, a 6-4 senior from Douglass, scored 12 points, but five came in a huge 13-2, momentum-changing run early in the second half. South Carolina State had seized a 32-31 lead on a 3-pointer by Darnell Porter. Smith got the lead back with a 3 of his own , and Morgan did not lose the lead again.

He drove for a layup and 42-34 lead with 12 minutes left, and when Thompson rolled into the lane for a short jumper, the Bears regained their 10-point lead.

Smith seemed prouder of a defensive effort that netted four steals in the first half.

"Defense is my thing," he said. "They were throwing some lazy passes and long bounce passes today. It was about [defensive] discipline."

DeWayne Jackson (12 points) had a steal and dunk to give Morgan its biggest lead at 52-40, and the Bulldogs, who won their semifinal game in overtime Friday night, ran out of gas.

In the giddy aftermath, Bozeman pulled on a MEAC championship cap and began dancing with Morgan's cheerleaders. Just as last year, there were tears in his eyes amid all the smiles.

"Once you drink from that cup, you want more," said Bozeman, who will make his fifth NCAA appearance in eight years as a Division I coach (he was 3-for-4 at Cal previously).

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