Morgan has puncher's chance against West Virginia

Bears may be underdogs but don't feel overmatched

March 18, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

David vs. Goliath is the convenient story line here.

Little Morgan State against big, bad West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The No. 15 seed in the East Regional taking on the No. 2 seed, which just won the Big East tournament after a heavyweight brawl with Georgetown.

Why bother to show up?

Except Morgan doesn't feel like the overmatched kid with the slingshot.

For one thing, the 27-9 Bears are making their second straight appearance in the Big Dance, so they're not exactly awe-struck about mixing it up with the big guys.

And with back-to-back Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament crowns and 19 wins in their past 21 games, they go into Friday's game in Buffalo, N.Y., feeling they have at least a puncher's chance to knock off the Mountaineers.

That's the message Bears coach Todd Bozeman has been drilling into his kids' heads all week.

"I told them the only people who don't have a chance are North Carolina, UCLA and teams like that, because they're not in it," he said the other day, sitting in the warm sunshine outside Hill Field House. "And they smiled, so I know they got it."

They got it, all right.

"Like we always say: They tie their shoes just like us and put their shorts on just like us," senior guard Reggie Holmes, the Bears' leading scorer, said of the Mountaineers. "Ninety-nine percent of the world is saying they're going to win. But we believe."

So it's been another wonderful week of March Madness on the Morgan campus in Northeast Baltimore.

The students are psyched, the faculty is pumped and the phones in the ticket office are ringing off the hook.

Floyd Kerr, the Bears' athletic director, said the school had fielded more than 600 requests for tickets. Which means some fans were going to be disappointed, because each school in the opening round of the NCAA tournament receives a ticket allotment of 500.

"Everyone's excited - and not just on campus," Holmes said. "I went to the mall yesterday. So many people were coming up to me saying, 'Congratulations' and 'We're so proud of you.' I didn't even think they knew who I was."

Shows you what an appearance in the Big Dance can do for a basketball program - and an entire school.

Kerr said there was a 49 percent spike in applications after the Bears made the tournament last year, when they lost by 28 points to Oklahoma.

"The last couple of years, just to see the gym go from hundreds to thousands [of spectators], just to see the kids [in the stands] go from T-shirts to sweaters to body paint, it has definitely been a transformation of student morale," football coach Donald Hill-Eley said.

There's also a side story to this magical Morgan season, and it comes in the form of Anthony Anderson, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound redshirt freshman who is battling leukemia.

But the Bears have turned tragedy into something they can rally behind.

They dedicated the season to "Big Ant." They wear a patch with his No. 4 on their uniforms. He undergoes chemotherapy. But he keeps saying how much he wants the team to go back to the Big Dance.

The Bears all say they'll be touching the No. 4 on their jerseys during the game for good luck.

It's a great story that goes along with a great season for the Bears.

And now they take the court Friday against West Virginia in the NCAA tournament, with the whole country watching and their school shining under the biggest spotlight in sports.

A puncher's chance - that's what they have against the Mountaineers.

We'll see whether it's enough.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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