It would be easy for top teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to write off Morgan State. After all, coach Todd Bozeman's team opened this season by losing 13 of its first 19 games, coming off the program's worst record in six years.
Just two weeks shy of the MEAC tournament, however, the Bears are officially on a roll.
Point guard Blake Bozeman, the sophomore son of the coach, had a career-high 16 points to lead six players in double figures, as host Morgan State battled back from a nine-point deficit near halftime, creeping closer to the .500 mark with an 86-68 win over Coppin State.
"We've had the pieces all year. It's just now, at the perfect time, we seem to be clicking," said the younger Bozeman, who also had eight assists and six rebounds. "Everybody is buying in and doing the things that we've expected since the preseason."
It was the fifth win in the past six games for the Bears (11-14 overall, 7-6 MEAC) and second against the Eagles in 18 days. They close the regular season with three home games against teams that entered the night with a combined record of 21-54.
Coppin State, which broke a seven-game losing streak Saturday against Howard, fell to 6-23 (3-11). Despite 12 3-pointers, including four by guard Andre Armstrong (game-high 24 points), the Eagles managed just 30 points in the second half.
The key was more aggressive defense on the perimeter.
"That was one of the things we wanted to focus on — to guard them at the 3-point line," Todd Bozeman said. "The approach I took at the half was that they made nine 3s and shot [53 percent], and we were only down two. I thought that was a good sign. If I'm on the other end of that, I'm a little concerned, because how much better can you shoot it."
Shaquille Duncan, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, added 14 points and 11 rebounds and fellow forward DeWayne Jackson added 14 and seven for the Bears, who made seven of nine 3s after halftime.
After defeating the Eagles by 29 earlier this month, Morgan State appeared to be primed for another blowout early in this one.
With several members of the Ravens, including Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee, watching from courtside, the Bears built a 17-6 lead in the first 8:37 by dominating the glass, hitting timely 3-pointers and limiting Coppin State to one shot on most possessions.
Content to fire away from the perimeter against a significantly taller opponent, the Eagles quickly found themselves in danger of letting the game slip away. Until, that is, they began to heat up.
After making just one of their first six 3-point attempts, the Eagles converted eight of their next 10, including three by guard Patrick Cole, as part of a 29-9 run. When Michael Murray hit the first of two foul shots with 2:48 left in the half, Coppin State had built a 35-26 lead of its own.
In danger of letting the game get out of hand, Morgan — the top offensive rebounding team in the conference — opened the second half looking to re-establish its physical dominance.
The Bears pushed the ball inside to draw fouls, threw it back out for open looks and, most of all, began to play Coppin State's perimeter shooters more aggressively. The result was a game-changing 16-2 run in which they held the Eagles without a field goal for six minutes.
"What I saw was they stepped the pressure up a lot more," Eagles coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said. "They came out alive and more determined. We didn't come out like we have in the past. We didn't meet the challenge, then we get down on ourselves. A lot of that has to do with maturity."
When Justin Black hit teammate Anthony Hubbard for a layup with 13:22 to play, Morgan State had built its lead back to nine, and re-established control.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun