The drama surrounding the Morgan State men's basketball team was on the court Saturday at Hill Field House.
A week filled with closed-door meetings and private discussions on the suspension of Bears coach Todd Bozeman ended with Morgan State blowing a 17-point lead in the final 81/2 minutes of regulation against Norfolk State, then going two overtimes before succumbing to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference front-runner, 90-89.
Senior forward Aric Brooks (St. Frances) made a pair of free throws with 26.7seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime, and three straight free throws with 1.4 seconds left in that period to send it to a second. But Brooks and senior guard Larry Bastfield (Towson Catholic), whose brief and still undetermined confrontation with Bozeman led to the suspension, missed desperation shots in the waning seconds of the second overtime.
"A win could have cured a whole lot of disease that's going on with us right now," said Brooks, who took an ill-advised 26-footer with about 10 seconds left and the Bears trailing by one. "We've got to stay positive and stay together right now. We've got a lot of things going on -- injuries, guys ineligible and Coach Bozeman. I still feel like we have enough to get the job done."
The loss was the latest in a string of narrow defeats this season for Morgan State (3-11, 1-2 in the MEAC), coming five days after the Bears lost at Savannah State on a last-second dunk.
"We've been battling. This is the kind of game we've been having all season," interim coach Kevin McClain said. "That kind of game we didn't need. We definitely needed a win."
The Bears played the overtime periods without two starters who had fouled out, including junior forward DeWayne Jackson, who finished with a career-high 33 points. Kyle O'Quinn led Norfolk State (13-5, 5-0) with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Asked when he would like to see Bozeman's status determined, Brooks said, "The quicker the better. But from what I've been told, it's going to be a long process. We're going to try to keep our minds off of it and work hard at practice."
McClain declined to comment about Bozeman's situation, referring all questions to school spokesman Jarrett Carter, who said before the game said that a three-person committee charged with investigating the incident is still "fact-finding."
Morgan State athletic director Floyd Kerr, who is on the committee, also declined to comment.
Bozeman, who in six years at Morgan State helped resurrect his coaching career and a downtrodden program by leading the Bears to NCAA tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, was suspended last Sunday, a day after he made what he called "accidental contact" with Bastfield in the final minute of a road victory at South Carolina State. He is on paid administrative leave.
South Carolina State president George E. Cooper accused Bozeman of punching Bastfield in the face and brought in campus police to see if Bastfield wanted to press charges. Bozeman and Bastfield said Cooper blew the incident out of proportion. Bastfield said he "exaggerated" his reaction to the contact and that Bozeman had accidentally pushed him in the chest.
Kerr said the team has not been distracted by the controversy. "Our team is focused," he said. "They're doing the best they can."
The fans who came to Saturday's game were supportive of the team and many, including Mike Jones of Suffolk, Va., remain supportive of Bozeman. Jones, who drove four hours to see the game, said, "I think it's been blown out of proportion," and believes that the school "is going on his past."
Bozeman was fired at Cal in 1996 for breaking NCAA rules and took a decade to get another job. In 2007, he was charged with assault after cursing a female worker at a restaurant near Longwood, Va., when a food order was wrong. The charges were dropped after Bozeman apologized.
As Bozeman waits out the suspension at his Bowie home, the Bears will go back to practice for Monday's game against Hampton. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU, meaning the unwanted attention about the suspension will likely continue.
Bastfield, whose 18-footer from the right wing bounced off the rim Saturday at the end of the second overtime, avoided a question about Bozeman's status. Instead he remained focused on the team.
"We know we're going to get better," he said. "Just hold our heads up and keep reminding ourselves."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun