LAKELAND, Fla. - Bowie State's magical ride in the NCAA Division II basketball tournament ended last night.
Tall, gifted and deep, Kentucky Wesleyan clinched its sixth straight appearance in the championship game, ousting the Bulldogs with second-half domination of their semifinal match at the Lakeland Center, 84-64.
"We gave it our best shot," said Bowie coach Luke D'Alessio. "Their program is in place and we're still growing."
Said Bulldogs star Tim Washington: "This has been one of the best experiences in my life. I've never seen anything like it. I played a bad game, but we all played our hearts out. I think this program is moving and is going to get even better."
Bowie finished with a 30-5 record, its first titles in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and South Atlantic region and a berth in the final four.
For a half, the Bulldogs went step for step with tradition-studded Kentucky Wesleyan (31-3), the only team in any division except UCLA (1967-73) to make six consecutive title games. The Panthers, who have won eight national crowns, including two in the past five years, will face Northeastern State of Oklahoma in the title game tomorrow afternoon.
With their first four baskets coming on three-pointers, Bowie was never behind by more than four points during the first 20 minutes, nor ahead by more than three. The half also featured four tie scores and identical 42.4 percent shooting by both teams.
But the game's tenor began to change almost imperceptibly. Bowie lost top frontcourt reserve Shawn Hampton (St. Frances) to a banged-up knee late in the first half after a collision with Wesleyan's Baltimore native Damon Garris (Woodlawn). Hampton was already playing with a broken finger on his left hand.
After an even several minutes to launch the second half, the Panthers capitalized on hot shooting, Bowie's cooling-off period and Washington's foul trouble to unleash an 18-4 run that left the Bulldogs in dire straits.
Washington, who had only one first-half basket, was beginning to warm up when he was charged with his third and fourth fouls within 15 seconds and was forced to the bench. With 6-foot-11 Eugene Dabney flourishing in Washington's absence, the outcome was virtually sealed.
"It was one of those nights when the basket is big," Dabney said. "You just feel good about it."
Dabney finished with a game-high 28 points to effectively support point guard Marlon Parmer (24 points, game-high nine rebounds, eight assists).
"If there is a better player in Division II than Marlon Parmer, I'd have to see him," said Panthers coach Ray Harper, in his seventh season. "I've never coached a better one than him."
Bowie was aware of Parmer, for sure, but Dabney surprised them.
"The big guy really hurt us," said Omarr Smith (City), one of four Bulldogs to score in double figures. "We didn't expect him to play that way.
"We knew we had to play a near-flawless game and match their scoring and intensity to win. That's why when Tim got in foul trouble, we were hurt. We depend on him a lot. But we fought hard right to the end. We felt like we had nothing to lose."
The defeat ended the Bulldogs' nine-game winning streak and marked the first time they had lost on a neutral court this season (8-1).
The Bulldogs have been in contact with Garris, who had nine points and six rebounds for Kentucky Wesleyan, all during the tournament. The Baltimoreans on the Bowie roster have known Garris since childhood.
"My heart went out to them," Garris said. "They're still my family. But we all had the same goal and somebody had to go home sorry. It is just business."
Bowie has nothing to feel sorry about. The once-downtrodden program that underwent 23 consecutive losing seasons is now a force.
"I think this season definitely put us on the map," Washington said. "People realize now that Bowie isn't just a joke."
NOTES: The National Association of Basketball Coaches named Washington to its All-America third team yesterday. Wesleyan's Parmer also was a third-team pick.
BOWIE STATE-Washington 4-14 1-2 9, Moss-Kelley 5-12 3-4 15, J. Smith 6-8 0-0 12, McMurray 3-12 4-5 12, O. Smith 4-9 0-0 10, Wood 0-1 1-2 1, Van Norden 1-2 0-0 2, Hampton 0-1 0-1 0, Ross 0-0 1-2 1, Como 0-1 0-0 0, Wright-Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis, Jr. 1-3 0-0 2, Fields 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-66 10-16 64.
KENTUCKY WESLEYAN-Rogers 2-2 2-2 8, Key 3-5 0-0 6, Dabney 11-17 6-7 28, Parmer 6-17 10-13 24, Dye 1-6 0-0 2, Garris 4-7 1-1 9, West 0-0 0-0 0, Zuerner 2-8 0-0 5, Enos 0-0 2-2 2, Foster 0-0 0-0 0, Mosley 0-0 0-0 0, Ferguson 0-2 0-0 0, Freeman 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-66 21-25 84.
Half-Kentucky Wesleyan, 39-36. 3-point goals-BS 6-21 (O. Smith 2-4, Moss-Kelley 2-6, McMurray 2-7, J. Smith 0-1, Van Norden 0-1, Como 0-1, Lewis, Jr. 0-1), KW 5-19 (Rogers 2-2, Parmer 2-7, Zuerner 1-5, Ferguson 0-2, Dye 0-3). Fouled out-Washington. Rebounds-BS 40 (J. Smith, McMurray 8), KW 43 (Parmer 9). Assists-BS 11 (Moss-Kelley, McMurray 4), KW 14 (Parmer 8). Total fouls-BS 22, KW 20. A-N/A.