Morgan State's season ended yesterday with a familiar scenario: Fall behind because of sloppy offense, spot the opposition a sizable lead, than make a late charge and come up short.
After shooting terribly and falling behind by 17 points with five minutes left in the first half, the Bears staged an admirable rally before falling to the Bulldogs, 82-72, at Hill Field House.
South Carolina State (15-12) earned a trip to the semifinals today against either North Carolina A&T; or Howard. And the Bulldogs did it despite some internal disarray.
Last weekend, coach Cy Alexander was suspended while the school investigates alleged NCAA violations surrounding the recruitment and eligibility of junior forward Desi McQueen. Neither Alexander nor McQueen made the trip to Baltimore.
"It's been an adjustment for everybody," said Bulldogs assistant Ben Betts, who took Alexander's place. "We're trying to turn the situation into a positive one. It's going to be very tough to win two more games, especially in tournament time because teams play with a different level of adrenalin and emotion."
The Bears (5-22), who lost 10 of their last 12 games, showed that kind of emotion down the stretch, just when they appeared to be out of the game. Trailing 71-54 with 5:15 to play, the Bears went successfully to a full-court press and suddenly began to hit shots from everywhere.
With Brandon Battle, Damian Zellous and Jerard Rucker contributing baskets, Morgan State scored 12 straight points to cut the lead to 71-66 with 1:49 left. But the Bears would get no closer. South Carolina made nine of 10 free throws to pull away. The Bulldogs converted just one field goal in the last 5:15.
"We didn't have a good start. We got out of our patient offense and went back to taking quick shots," said Morgan State coach Lynn Ramage. "But the kids never quit. That's just as important as winning and losing. They're winning in other ways."
The Bears lost the battle of the boards, where South Carolina out-rebounded them, 44-25, including 16-6 at the offensive end. They also failed to stop All-MEAC first-team pick Derrick Patterson, who scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, both game highs.
Patterson's tip-in stopped Morgan State's late run and gave the Bulldogs a 74-66 lead with 1:42 left.
Point guard Eric Fernandez scored 20 points for the Bulldogs. Battle and Rucker led Morgan State with 15 points each.