The Morgan State men's basketball team played a rough early schedule this season and didn't find many breaks. The Bears lost to then-No. 14/15 Xavier, Southern California, Cal Poly and Ohio -- all on the road by nine points or fewer.
That's why Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman couldn't stop smiling after his Bears earned their first victory of the season Wednesday night, a 73-60 decision over crosstown rival UMBC before an announced 1,733 at the RAC Arena.
Bozeman and the Bears weren't thrilled to start the season at 0-7. They had played some good basketball against tough teams, but that didn't make losing seven straight any easier.
"I can't say I pushed the panic button," Bozeman said. "We've played some very good teams. I'm just glad to get the first victory."
Morgan State (1-7) used the combination of size and power inside and good shooting outside. Kevin Thompson (Walbrook), a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, led the Bears with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
He was helped inside by 7-2 center Ian Chiles, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Thompson (four) and Chiles (three) also combined to block seven shots and alter a number of others from UMBC (1-8).
The Retrievers tried to stop the bigger Bears by doubling on Thompson and/or Chiles, a left-hander with a soft touch. But Morgan State began doing more inside and outside as the game went on.
He and Chiles "were taking turns," Thompson said. "It opened up for our wings. It was big."
On the outside, Blake Bozeman (13 points) and DeWayne Jackson (nine) led the way. Bozeman, the coach's son, made four of six 3-pointers, including three early in the second half that helped the Bears fight off the Retrievers.
"They were doubling in the post, doubling on Ian and Kevin because that's where our advantage was," Blake Bozeman said. "I just had to be ready to catch it and shoot it."
Morgan State ended up 8-for-17 on 3-pointers. Bozeman and Jackson led the way there, and the outside shooting made life tougher for UMBC's defense, which was experiencing enough trouble with the Bears' inside size.
Jackson is usually a starter but came off the bench in this game. He entered late in the first half and made his first three 3-pointers to spark a 16-2 Morgan State run. The Bears scored 10 in a row at one point en route to a 35-24 halftime lead and never led by fewer than six after that.
Larry Bastfield (Towson Catholic) added 11 points and three assists for Morgan State.
Overall, Morgan State made 25 of 46 from the field (54 percent) despite a slow start. The smaller Retrievers outrebounded the Bears (43-39) but missed more shots than Morgan State took. UMBC finished 23-for-73 from the field -- only 32 percent.
Brian Neller led UMBC with 16 points. He made three 3-pointers, but the Retrievers missed 17 of 21 long-range shots.
Chase Plummer had 11 points and 12 rebounds in just 22 minutes while Chandler Thomas (11 points) and Jake Wasco (10 points, nine rebounds) also helped.
UMBC forced 16 turnovers and made 11 steals. Those Morgan State turnovers kept the Retrievers in the game early. But UMBC's shooting problems have hurt all season and caused trouble once more.
For the Bears, everything finally fell into place. After seven games filled with tough losses, bad breaks and all kinds of trouble, they finally got that first win. UMBC coach Randy Monroe wasn't surprised to see the Bears play so well.
"They're the best 0-7 team around," he said. "They're a good team."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun