After watching Morgan State's stunning upset of top-seeded Coppin State in the opening game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference quarterfinals yesterday, Maryland-Eastern Shore coach Rob Chavez said, "Morgan just gave the rest of the teams in the conference an opportunity to win this tourney."
Chavez's Hawks seized that opportunity with both hands by playing a near-perfect second half to eliminate Delaware State, 91-76.
UMES plays at 4:30 today in the semifinals against North Carolina A&T;, which beat Howard, 61-57, in overtime yesterday.
All five UMES starters -- Andre Miller, Travis Griffin, Kenya Mobley, Terrell Harris and Dale Harrison -- plus top reserve Zack Allison scored in double figures.
"This thing is wide open now," said Chavez, who in two seasons has turned around a near-moribund basketball program in Princess Anne. "It's true, we're the second seed. But there are no clear favorites now."
But UMES (16-11) played up to that role by shooting 63 percent in the second half, using a 20-5 run to break open a tense 50-44 game.
The Hornets had kept it close for 27 minutes by blistering the Hawks on the boards. They finished with an astonishing 58-28 rebounding edge.
But Delaware State (8-19) self-destructed by repeatedly missing close-in shots and follow-ups and committing 23 turnovers to only 11 for the Hawks.
"We knew their strength was rebounding," said Chavez. "When we beat them at our place last week [81-66], we out-rebounded them, and I knew their pride would take over tonight."
The Hawks reduced the number of rebounding opportunities by seldom missing a shot in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
After senior forward Malcolm Musgrove (22 points, 12 rebounds) made a layup to pull the Hornets within six (50-44), Allison began the Hawks' winning surge with a three-pointer.
A driving shot by Delaware State point guard Andrew Miles made it 55-47, but the Hornets would not score another basket for close to seven minutes while Mobley, a 6-foot-9 forward, and the backcourt combination of Harrison and Harris sparked UMES to a commanding 76-50 lead.
This has been a euphoric season for UMES, which had not won more than 10 games a season in the 17 years before Chavez arrived in 1992.
"This victory had to be a big stepping stone for the school," said Chavez, who says yesterday's win was the first for UMES in a MEAC quarterfinal.
"We just came out with more fire in the second half," said Harrison, the Hawks' lone senior starter, who loosened Delaware State's defense by converting three of his four three-point attempts. "We remembered losing at the buzzer to South Carolina State in the quarterfinals last year. This time, we weren't going to let it get that close."