Guard Justin Black said the memory of last season's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship-game loss fueled Morgan State all season and that the Bears are determined to make it over the final hurdle this year.
Black took matters into his own hands in Morgan State's tournament opener Thursday night, making his first six shots from the field in the second half and finishing with a game-high 29 points as the third-seeded Bears blitzed No. 6 seed Florida A&M, 81-68, in the quarterfinals at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va.
"I just got into a rhythm," said Black, a first-team All-MEAC selection who scored 14 points and hit two 3-pointers during his second-half barrage as the Bears expanded a two-point halftime lead to 19 with less than 11 minutes left. "I had a couple of drives, and after that I just started feeling it."
Morgan State (14-15) will meet No. 7 seed Coppin State in a "Battle of Baltimore" semifinal at 8 tonight. Coppin State will play for the third time in four days after ousting Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday and No. 2 Hampton on Wednesday.
"We had some regrets about how hard we played in the championship game last year," Black said. "This year, we don't want to have any regret. If we get beat because someone gets hot, so be it. But we have to leave it all out there."
All but eight of Black's game-high 29 points came in the second half. Center Ian Chiles added 15 points for the Bears, who shot 57.7 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes. Morgan State also outrebounded Florida A&M 48-31.
Guard Jamie Adams led Florida A&M with 26 points. But guard Reggie Lewis, the Rattlers' second-leading scorer, missed all five of his shots from the field and did not score a point. Lewis left the game briefly after taking an elbow to the face.
"We're an offensive team," Rattlers coach Clemon Johnson said. "When your second-leading scorer is giving you a donut, you're going to have problems."
The Rattlers started quickly. Two 3-pointers by Adams helped them take a 10-4 lead. However, guard Torin Childs-Harris capped a 12-0 Morgan State run with a 3-pointer, and the Bears maintained a slight edge throughout most of the half.
Florida A&M drew even at 29 inside the final minute on forward Pierre Crawford's layup, but Morgan State used two free throws to go into the break ahead 31-29.
Black scored eight first-half points to lead Morgan State, which shot 36.1 percent from the field before the break while outrebounding the Rattlers 28-15 and scoring 13 second-chance points.
Adams and forward Christopher Rozier each scored six first-half points to pace Florida A&M.
"My focus at halftime was on the first four minutes" of the second half, Johnson said. "They ruled those first four minutes. That was the difference in the ballgame."
Coppin State 82, UMES 60: Kyra Coleman scored 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Eagles (16-13) past the Hawks (9-21) in a MEAC quarterfinal at Scope Arena.
Coppin State advances to today's semifinal at 2:30 p.m. against North Carolina A&T (24-5).
Coleman became the sixth women's player in school history to top 1,300 career points, with 1,310, when she made a foul shot with 18:33 left.
Larrisa Carter and Ashle Craig contributed 15 points each for the Eagles.
UMES was led by Te'Amber Burke's 14 points.
"The difference was that we were a little quicker than they were," Coppin coach Derek Brown said. "The 22-point margin of victory is no indication of how tightly the game was played."
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.