Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman has a player for almost every occasion and a bench that doesn't end. Last week, in the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, he showed just how much depth he has.
Trying to keep post players Kevin Thompson and Ameer Ali from fouling out, Bozeman inserted little-used reserve John Long during a key stretch of the second half against Hampton.
By the time Long returned to the bench seven minutes later, the senior from Hagerstown had one thunderous breakaway dunk and a big defensive rebound, and the Bears had control of the game.
"Almost every game, someone else has stepped up," Bozeman said Tuesday. "If you look at the stats, it was always someone else that did step up and sometimes it didn't show up in the stat sheet."
In three games in the MEAC tournament, the Bears had eight players who finished with more than 30 total minutes playing time, and three more - including Long - with less than 20 minutes who nevertheless made contributions.
That depth could give the Bears a chance to withstand the charge of Big East champion West Virginia in an NCAA East Regional opener Friday. They will arrive in Buffalo with interchangeable parts and a resilience not normally found in the MEAC.
"It gives us more energy," starting guard Troy Smith said of Morgan's bench. "There's not many teams that can play eight to 10 people night in and night out. And it gives us an opportunity to match up with different people."
These are the bonus weapons the Bears will run out against the Mountaineers:
•DeWayne Jackson: A gifted 6-foot-8 "hybrid," as Bozeman describes him, who can defend a big forward or a smaller guard on the wing. Jackson was the MEAC's Freshman of the Year this season, hitting 43.9 percent from the arc. He hit 12 of 23 shots during the tournament and scored 32 points in 68 minutes.
•Joe Davis: The junior transfer from Cleveland State is instant offense for the Bears, but he's also learning to play point guard. Davis is 10 of 22 shots with nine assists in 64 minutes in the MEAC tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C.
•Danny Smith: Another transfer (from Western Nebraska Junior College), Smith gets minutes at point guard behind Sean Thomas and Davis. Playing with a mask in the tournament to protect a twice-fractured nose, he was held to 31 minutes, but nevertheless hit a big triple.
When the Bears practice, first team and second team clash as if it were a game.
"Our practices are really competitive," Danny Smith said. "Our second five could be our first five. Even now, we're still competing for minutes. Boze is really big on defense and competing, and out of that, your minutes can rise."
Added Troy Smith: "As starters, we bring that competitiveness because we know we're going to need them. So we go at them like they're the other team. At the same time, Boze lets you know you're playing for minutes every time you step on the court. Everything you do, you're playing for minutes, even if it's just shooting free throws."
Bozeman recruits his bench as insightfully as he recruits his starters. He liked the 6-5 Long to fill a role on the boards. "I recruited John because he was a defender and a rebounder, and I liked his athleticism. What he did down at the tournament was exactly what we recruited him for.
"A lot of times, it takes junior college players some time to adjust. That's probably what Danny's going through, because Jerrell [Green, Bozeman's first point guard at Morgan] went through it his first year and Itchy [Bolden] went through it last year."
Bozeman recruited Jackson for the obvious reasons, but also for defense. He liked having Jackson to match up on scorers like Norfolk State's Michael Deloach.
And he recruited Davis as a scorer, although the 6-foot junior from Warrensville, Ohio, has expanded his role this season.
"Actually he's given us more than what we expected because he's given us something on the defensive end, and he's given us some depth at point," Bozeman said. "A lot of times, teams will back off Sean and Danny to challenge them to shoot. But you don't really want to challenge Joe Davis to shoot because that's what he came in here for. He allows us to counter that kind of defensive strategy. And he's quick and fast, so he can break passes a lot and that's what depth on the bench allows us."