The Morgan State College Bears, coaching staff and cheerleaders pose for the victory awards after downing Southwest Missouri State in the final game of the NCAA College Division National Basketball Championship.
The Morgan State College Bears, coaching staff and cheerleaders pose for the victory awards after downing Southwest Missouri State in the final game of the NCAA College Division National Basketball Championship. (AP files / 1974)

Had the term "March Madness" been in vogue in 1974, the state of Maryland would have epitomized it. That was the year two college basketball teams made history hereabouts, and a third just missed by a whisker.

Forty-three years ago, the Morgan State men won the NCAA College Division championship and Maryland-Eastern Shore played in the National Invitation Tournament — the latter being the first predominantly black school ever invited to one of the two major post-season classics.

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Moreover, that same season, the Maryland Terps placed fourth in the final NCAA Division I poll, having lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State, 103-100 in overtime in what has been called the greatest college game ever played.

Morgan State's Marvin Webster
Morgan State's Marvin Webster (Handout photo)

But it was Morgan State that won the hearts of area basketball fans. Led by 7-foot-1 Marvin "The Human Eraser" Webster, a pencil-thin, shot-blocking center, the Bears won 28 of 33 games and captured a national title in their first-ever NCAA appearance.

"The good Lord is shining down on us," Morgan State coach Nat Frazier said of his team, which basked in the aftermath. Webster, an All-American from Edmondson High, was named College Division Player of the Year and Frazier, the nation's top coach.

Both the Maryland General Assembly and the Baltimore City Council passed resolutions congratulating Morgan State on its success.

Meanwhile, UMES — a tiny school in Princess Anne — broke racial barriers with its bid to the NIT, then a more prestigious event than now.

"It is a great step toward the future for everybody," UMES coach John Bates said of his team's appearance. The upstart Hawks seized the moment, defeating Manhattan in Madison Square Garden before losing in the quarterfinals to favored Jacksonville by two points.

And Maryland? Tom McMillen, Len Elmore et al. finished 23-5, having lost a heartbreaker to NC State in the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Then, only the winner advanced to the NCAA tourney; otherwise the Terps, like Morgan State, might have won it all.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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