Morgan State's undefeated status in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was short-lived.
After remaining atop the league for almost a month after beating cross-town rival Coppin State, the Bears fought a futile uphill battle last night and suffered a heartbreaking, 62-59 defeat to visiting Florida A&M.;
The Rattlers made two crucial plays in the final minute to overcome Morgan's 57-56 lead - its first since the opening basket - and then withstood two shots for a tie by freshman Reggie Holmes (St. Frances), both of which rimmed out.
Brian Greene converted a conventional three-point play to give Florida A&M; (7-7, 2-0 MEAC) a 59-57 edge before two free throws by Ronald Timus evened the score with 1:09 remaining.
Greene (14 points, eight rebounds) followed with one of two foul shots and then reserve Lamar Twitty slapped out the rebound on the miss to Joe Ballard, retaining possession for the Rattlers. Their center, 6-foot-8 Rome Sanders, then scored after a pass from penetrating Ernest Maul, boosting the lead to three.
Holmes got two good looks in the final 22 seconds, but the ball wouldn't fall and Morgan (2-9, 1-1) lost its third straight.
"Who else would you want shooting it?" Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said rhetorically. "We got two great shots. They just didn't fall."
Said Rattlers coach Mike Gillespie: "It was a very good college game, hard-fought. They're much improved. Morgan is going to win a lot of games in this league."
The Bears had trouble containing Sanders throughout. The FAMU senior from Chicago missed only one shot in the game (a free throw) and finished with a game-high 26 points.
It didn't help Morgan's cause, either, when it dug itself a quick 11-2 hole as the offense struggled against a zone, and Sanders and Greene flourished inside.
A smaller lineup helped Morgan pick up the tempo and Jamar Smith (22 points) assumed most of the scoring burden. The Bears tied once at 23, but couldn't seize the lead until Smith's final basket with 1:49 left.
"It wasn't a good way to start the new year," Bozeman said. "It was a lot of little things. We've been preaching about the free-throw box [boxing out opponents] and they got the rebound on us. And we weren't very smart on the offensive end. But that's going to come with time."
FLORIDA A&M-Glover; 2-7 0-0 4, Sanders 8-8 10-11 26, Maul 0-3 1-2 1, Robinson 2-11 2-2 8, Greene 5-10 4-6 14, Mason 0-3 0-0 0, Twitty 2-5 3-4 7, Ballard 0-1 0-0 0, Adkins 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-50 20-25 62. MORGAN STATE-Timus 3-8 4-5 10, Coly 4-4 1-2 9, Green 0-4 0-1 0, McLean 1-5 2-4 4, Smith 10-16 1-3 22, Holmes 4-11 2-2 11, Barnes 0-4 0-0 0, Aujla 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 23-55 10-17 59. Half-Florida A&M; 34-30. 3-point goals-Florida A&M; 2-14 (Robinson 2-9, Mason 0-1, Twitty 0-2, Maul 0-2), Morgan 3-20 (Aujla 1-3, Smith 1-5, Holmes 1-6, McLean 0-2, Barnes 0-2, Green 0-2). Fouled out-Coly, Glover. Rebounds-Florida A&M; 33 (Greene 8), Morgan 35 (Timus 9). Assists-Florida A&M; 12 (Ballard, Glover, Greene 2), Morgan 14 (Barnes, Green 4). Total fouls-Florida A&M; 17, Morgan 19. A-537.