After his team lost its season opener to Iona last night, Morgan State coach Chris Fuller was disappointed with the final score but pleased with what he saw.
"A couple of seasons ago, we couldn't compete with a team of this caliber," he said. "We should have won this game tonight."
Playing against the defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champions, Morgan State gave Iona all it could handle, losing in overtime, 95-92, before a capacity crowd of 1,000 at Baltimore City Community College.
Tariq Kirksay led Iona with 18 points and Phil Grant added 17 and seven rebounds. Jimmy Fields led Morgan State with a game-high 28 points and Ron Van Hook and Tremain Byrd each scored 15.
Byrd missed a three-pointer with 8.9 seconds left in overtime. The Bears hit only one of nine shots, some of them ill-advised, in the five-minute extra session.
After two free throws by Chris Harrison gave Iona a 91-89 lead with 2: 14 left, the Gaels' Grant followed a miss by Byrd with a jumper to make it 93-89 with 1: 30 left.
Fields brought Morgan State within 93-92 with a three-pointer with 46 seconds left. The Bears forced Iona into a turnover, but Van Hook was called for a backcourt violation with 11.5 seconds left.
"We've got to learn to come together as a team and make plays," Fields said. "We played hard and gave it our best effort, we just didn't make the plays."
Fields, a transfer from North Carolina-Charlotte who starred at Gilman, was impressive in his Morgan debut, contributing seven rebounds and five assists.
Fields gave Morgan State an 85-82 lead with 52 seconds remaining in regulation with a three-pointer after Byrd had grabbed his own miss. Iona's John McDonald, a former player from Loyola, tied the game at 85 with three free throws with 33.7 seconds left.
Byrd (4-for-15 shooting) hit consecutive three-pointers during a 10-0 run that turned a 41-39 halftime deficit into a 49-41 lead for Morgan early in the second half.
The Gaels would regain the lead, 64-63, on a Kashif Hameed follow.
A three-pointer by Van Hook gave Morgan State a 66-64 lead with 7: 16 remaining in regulation. Morgan State built the lead to 72-68 on a three-pointer by Fields.
"We made some big shots and got decent looks," said Fuller, starting his third season. "There were a few that maybe we shouldn't have tried, but the kids felt they were good shots."
Morgan shot 38 percent (29-for-76, 7-for-27 on three-pointers) from the field, and missed 17 of 44 free throws. The Gaels were 35 of 72 (49 percent) from the field.
Iona built an eight-point lead early in the first half despite McDonald sitting with three fouls. Morgan gained the lead late in the half before Harrison hit a three-pointer and a free throw by Kirksay gave Iona a 41-39 halftime lead.
"This is difficult place to play basketball," Iona coach Tim Welsh said of the tight playing conditions with the big crowd. "We showed a lot of poise, but it's the first game and we're still trying to mold our team."
Pub Date: 11/16/97