The defending league champions got by Coppin State in overtime Saturday, but couldn't pass the Morgan State test last night, dropping a 61-59 thriller to the Bears that jumbled the picture again.
Morgan (10-11, 9-4) remained in a four-team race for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in Richmond, Va., by rallying from a six-point deficit in the final four minutes on Jason Demory's two clutch three-pointers and the free-throw shooting of Jimmy Fields and Rasheed Sparks.
The Bulldogs had an opportunity to tie or win after a Fields free throw produced the final score with 20 seconds on the clock. But they missed a shot and two attempted tips before S.C. State's James Jones got the richochet and tried to drive. He never had sufficient control and the clock expired before they could get a timeout.
"Our execution on that last play wasn't what it should have been," said S.C. State's veteran coach, Cy Alexander. "We were trying to run the ball to Jones early and he got denied. We just wanted to get the best shot [for either a win or tie]."
In his final game at Gilman's Finney Center, his high school home court, Fields had 17 points and seven assists and said "next to Coppin, this is the biggest win. No, this may be the biggest because we knocked off the top dog. We had a disappointing loss on Saturday and we wanted to prove something to ourselves in this game."
The Bears blew an 18-point lead in the final seven minutes and lost a two-point game to North Carolina A&T.; But they quickly resumed their hunt for the top seed, tying Coppin and Norfolk State 1 1/2 games behind S.C. State with last night's win.
"Some of the fans might feel this win makes up for that," said Morgan coach Chris Fuller. "But we don't. We want to make sure we don't go down that road any more."
Demory was struggling mightily with his shooting throughout the game and was 1-for-11 when he drilled an NBA-distance three to bring Morgan to within 52-49 with 3: 46 left. At the 1: 55 mark, he made one falling away from the corner with the 35-second clock expiring and Morgan was never headed from that point.
"I was a little bit frustrated," Demory admitted. "But they told me to keep on shooting and my teammates kept looking for me. I just put that last one up as soon as I touched it and it went in."
S.C. State (12-10, 11-3) got 21 points and eight rebounds from center Duane Johnson in its fifth consecutive away game; it traveled to Delaware State, then to two games in Florida, then to two in Baltimore. It won the first four.
"We've got to stay focused," said Alexander. "You can't bring this game back and now we've got Norfolk State to play at home. Fortunately, we still leave here in first place."
"We're going to need some help," said Fuller, whose Bears were 21-for-23 from the foul line, their best percentage of the season. "There is still intrigue involved with who's going to finish where. Hopefully, we got our bad one out of the system."
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE -- Hall 1-2 0-0 2, Johnson 8-11 5-7 21, Davis 3-9 0-0 7, Wiatre 2-13 4-4 8, Jones 4-10 2-2 11, Waller 2-2 0-0 4, Shivers 0-1 0-0 0, Carlisle 2-4 2-2 6. Totals 22-52 13-15 59.
MORGAN STATE Sparks 7-11 3-3 18, Lewis 1-2 5-6 7, King 1-4 2-2 4, Demory 3-13 0-0 9, Fields 5-13 7-8 17, Reece 0-0 0-0 0, McBride 1-3 0-0 0, Van Hook 0-0 0-0 0, Bullock 0-0 0-0 0, Canady 0-0 0-0 0, Herron 0-0 0-0 0, Qualls 0-0 4-4 4. Totals 18-46 21-23 61.
Halftime--S. Carolina St. 29-27. 3-point goals--S. Carolina St. 2-14 (Davis 1-6, Wiatre 0-6, Jones 1-2), Morgan St. 4-21 (Sparks 1-4, Demory 3-13, Fields 0-4). Fouled out--Davis. Rebounds--S. Carolina St. 33 (Johnson 8), Morgan St. 28 (Sparks 8). Assists--S. Carolina St. 4 (Hall, Wiatre, Jones, Waller 1), Morgan St. 10 (Fields 7). Total fouls--S. Carolina St. 16, Morgan St. 14. A--1,100.
Pub Date: 2/09/99