Justin Black has become one of the most electrifying players in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season with his ability to take over a game.
Midway through the second half against Coppin State on Wednesday night, he grabbed a loose ball and threw a bounce pass between several defenders to Shaquille Duncan who converted an easy layup that gave Morgan State all the momentum it would need.
After suffering through a lackluster first half, Black came alive and finished with 22 points, leading the Bears to a 78-69 victory before an announced 4,500 at a frenzied Hill Field House.
"He's a really good player and he can find guys," Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said about Black. "He's an outstanding passer. I thought he had a good feel tonight. I could see it when he was hitting jump shots, he's tough to handle. He did a great job."
The Bears have now won five of their past six games. Morgan State has also won five consecutive games against the Eagles. With the victory, the Bears also improved to 9-3 in the MEAC and are tied for second with Hampton behind North Carolina Central.
Ian Chiles also had 14 points and Duncan added 12 for the Bears (11-13 overall). Blake Bozeman also scored 11 points for the Bears.
"The game was kind of slow," said Black, a senior who also had 10 assists. "I know Coppin relies on the 3-point ball a lot. So, I said to myself if we get down by 10, it's going to be hard to come back because they'll start hitting them eventually. I tried to come out way more aggressive and we played a 3-2 [zone] to slow the game down. I tried to penetrate as much as possible."
Michael Murray led Coppin State with 21 points, while Taariq Cephas had 11 and Sterling Smith finished with 10. Dallas Gary scored 11 of his 16 points in the opening half for the Eagles (9-17 overall, 6-7 MEAC).
The Eagles clung to a 35-32 lead at the break and the teams stayed close early in the second half before the Bears took control. Black scored three straight baskets, including a 3-pointer, to give the Bears back the lead, 47-44, with 14:39 remaining.
Black continued to dominate, converting another 3-pointer and a dunk to provide a 60-50 lead with 10:04 left. The Eagles, however, would not go away and a pair of free throws by Gary with 6:22 remaining cut the margin to 66-61.
Bozeman answered for Morgan State with a 3-pointer the next time down the floor. A pair of free throws by Chiles gave the Bears a 73-61 lead with 3:21 remaining, but the Eagles would not go away.
A 3-pointer by Cephas cut the margin to 73-69 with 1:30 left. However, a free throw and a long jumper by Black sealed the game for the Bears. A dunk by Cedric Blossom put an exclamation point on the victory.
Morgan State shot 29-of-58 (50 percent) from the field.
The teams traded jumpers, dunks and 3-pointers to open the game, which was tied at 20 at the second media timeout. A pair of 3-pointers by Sterling Smith and Cephas gave Coppin State some breathing room with a 33-28 lead with 2:41 left in the half.
Blake Bozeman gave Morgan State a boost heading into the locker room by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the margin to 35-32 at the break. The Eagles did a solid job protecting the ball and had just four turnovers.
"It always a fun game because it's always packed and always exciting," Bozeman said. "If you ever travel with us on the road, all of the games are like that when we come to play. I think our guys are used to it. But it's a great college basketball atmosphere and we had some recruits in town tonight and it was great for them to see that. But Coppin/Morgan is always going to be an intense rivalry because we're from both sides of the city."