Second-seeded Delaware State's dominance on the offensive boards produced a berth in tonight's MEAC final, as the Hornets beat the seventh-seeded Bears, 93-78, at the Scope.
The win marks the first appearance in the MEAC finals for the Hornets (16-13), who won their seventh straight and defeated Morgan for the third time this season. Going into the tournament, the Hornets had not advanced past the first round since the 1984-85 season.
The loss ended a late-season spurt by the Bears (7-22), who survived an 0-14 start to the season to advance to the semifinals.
Although the overall rebounding edge was just 42-40 in Delaware State's favor, the Hornets had a 26-15 advantage on the offense boards. Sixteen of those offensive rebounds came in the first half, when the Hornets led, 48-39.
"They did a heck of a job rebounding and, after Glenn Smith got in early foul trouble [he picked up his third 10 minutes into the game], we didn't have anyone else," said Morgan coach Michael Holmes. "They were just better, and they beat us with a team that has been playing together for four years."
The Hornets also gained an advantage by limiting the Bears to a two-man team most of the game. Marcus Sheffield (29 points) and Smith (21 points) had success scoring, but the Bears didn't hit their first three-pointer until Steven Haynes did with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left.
"Every time [Haynes] touched the ball, they were in his face," said Holmes of his best shooter, who scored just three points. "And they shot well also. We couldn't stop them."
All five Delaware State starters scored in double figures, with Victor Ford leading the way with 19 points (four of eight three-pointers). Center Tom Davis scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Morgan outshot Delaware State from the field (51.7 percent to 44.4 percent) but fell behind by as many 18 midway through the second half. Sheffield, who hit the winning shot against South Carolina State in a quarterfinals Thursday, scored 16 in the first half and fell one shy of his career high.
When Sheffield scored on a layup and ensuing free throw to pull Morgan to within 60-53 with 12:36 left, it seemed as if the Bears were picking up momentum. But Ford scored the first five points during a 7-0 run that gave Delaware State a 67-53 lead. Morgan would never get closer than nine the rest of the way.
"We made a tremendous amount of turnovers, and that also hurt," said Holmes, whose team came out tight after the emotional win the previous night. The Bears missed five shots and committed two turnovers in their first seven possessions.
It was Morgan's third loss to Delaware State this season. They were 87-79 losers at Delaware State on Jan. 14 and 102-96 losers at Hill Field House on Feb. 11.
Despite the defeat, Holmes was proud of the team that was not expected to do much in his first season.
"After the game I told them that we had a hell of a year and that it was a lot of fun," Holmes said. "We're no longer the 'Bad News Bears.' We're once again the Golden Bears, and now we have respect."