Over the first three weeks of the college basketball season, Morgan State narrowly missed a pair of big-time upsets after failing to finish off Connecticut and Miami.
Facing cross-town rival UMBC last night, however, it was a painfully slow start that doomed the visiting Bears.
Morgan State made only two of its first 17 shots from the field, building an early 20-point lead before fending off a furious second-half rally in an 84-76 victory before 2,451 at RAC Arena.
"This is probably the best team we've played," Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said. "They've got four guys averaging 16 points or better, they're playing loose and they're playing confident. That's a lethal combination."
UMBC (5-1), off to its best start since the 2000-2001 season, got 21 points and eight rebounds from guard Ray Barbosa and 18 points apiece from forwards Cavell Johnson and Darryl Proctor. Johnson, a 6-foot-8 senior, dominated in the paint during the second half, getting 12 points and six rebounds to help the Retrievers preserve their lead.
The Bears' chances were further hurt midway through the second half when starting point guard Jerrell Green injured his ankle and had to be helped off the court.
Although Morgan (3-3) got within five on Reggie Holmes' fast-break layup with less than six minutes to play, its offense then stalled.
"They're a team that wants to attack you and get in the paint, and I thought we did a good job containing them, making them shoot jump shots," Barbosa said. "We had to get off to a good start, because we knew that they weren't going to give up."
UMBC led from the outset, scoring the game's first eight points, all from short range. Brian Hodges' driving layup extended the lead to 16-4, and a pair of free throws from Barbosa minutes later gave the Retrievers a 21-12 lead with 6:26 left in the half.
While UMBC was creating easy chances, however, Morgan struggled against the Retrievers' zone defense, often settling for long-range jumpers and usually coming up empty. The Bears hit just one of 10 three-point attempts in the half, with Holmes, their leading scorer, misfiring on four of his five attempts.
The Retrievers built their lead to 38-18 before Morgan began to ramp up its defensive pressure late in the half, scoring six straight points - including a thunderous dunk by Jamar Smith (game-high 25 points) off a pass from Holmes - to cut the lead to 15 by halftime.
"We got off to a slow start, and you can't get off to slow starts like that on good teams like UMBC," Smith said. "That really put us in a deep hole, and we were just fighting back the whole game."
"This is probably our worst defensive effort," Bozeman said. "They're a three-point shooting team, so we focused on that. We did a good job guarding the three, but we gave up the penetration."
MORGAN STATE-Coly 1-3 4-4 6, Kately 9-12 4-6 22, Moore 0-1 0-0 0, Green 0-5 0-0 0, Smith 9-16 7-8 25, Bolden 3-10 1-2 9, Holmes 4-15 3-4 14, Hemsley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 19-24 76. UMBC-Johnson 8-15 2-4 18, Proctor 9-15 0-1 18, Greene 1-4 1-4 3, Hodges 4-7 4-4 13, Barbosa 6-19 8-8 21, Spadafora 1-3 0-0 3, Fry 4-5 0-0 8. Totals 33-68 15-21 84. Half-UMBC, 47-32. 3-point goals-Morgan St. 5-19 (Holmes 3-11, Bolden 2-4, Green 0-1, Smith 0-3), UMBC 3-11 (Hodges 1-2, Spadafora 1-2, Barbosa 1-5, Greene 0-2). Rebounds-Morgan St. 36 (Kately 8), UMBC 41 (Johnson 10). Assists-Morgan St. 13 (Bolden 5), UMBC 20 (Greene 11). Total fouls-Morgan St. 18, UMBC 18. Technical-Morgan St. Bench. A-2,451.