ST. THOMAS, THE VIRGIN ISLANDS — — Todd Bozeman never stopped coaching, even when it was clear that his Morgan State basketball team wasn't going to beat Vanderbilt Saturday in the second-round loser's bracket game at the Paradise Jam.
His Bears never stopped competing against their Southeastern Conference opponent. But as happened in all of Morgan State's previous five games this season, the game ended with more effort than efficiency in a 75-66 defeat for Bozeman's team.
"We definitely played with effort, I told the guys that I don't have a problem with their effort," Bozeman said. "I was proud of their effort tonight. We've just got to work out the kinks, but they fought and they didn't stop. They didn't stop yesterday [losing to La Salle]. It carried over to today."
Trailing by as many as 17 points early in the second half, the Bears cut their deficit to as few as five points, 71-66, on a dunk by senior center Ian Chiles with 1:23 remaining. As has happened in a few games already this season, Morgan State's problems at the free throw line cost the Bears a chance at an upset.
While Vanderbilt (3-2) missed 17 of its 32 free throws, the Commodores were able to convert with a little more consistency down the stretch to hold the Bears at bay. Morgan State made a much higher percentage — 13 of 22 overall — a few misses down the stretch proved costly.
"We're trying to fix it, the free throws, but I think a lot of people have that problem," Bozeman said. "Down the stretch they made them, which is what you want. They missed a lot early, which allowed us to stay in the game. I don't have any qualms, everybody who got on the floor played hard."
Senior guard Justin Black led the Bears with 18 points on six of 17 shooting, but missed a pair of free throws with 4:55 left that could have cut the deficit to five.
Chiles, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, missed the back end of a one-and-one with Vanderbilt leading 65-58 and senior guard Anthony Hubbard missed the first of two free throws with the Commodores ahead, 67-58.
"There were just one or two defensive rotations, we could cut down on turnovers, do that we're going to be all right, we're going to get some wins," Chiles said. "There was no moral victory. We're right there. We're happy with the performance even though we lost."
The Bears will certainly have a good chance at their first victory when they play in the seventh-eighth place game Monday against 0-5 Marist, which lost to Maryland by 25 on Friday and by six, 76-60, to Loyola Marymount on Sunday. Somebody will get their first win of the season, someone will leave winless.
"We've got to play hard," Chiles said. "We don't want to keep losing. Rather them stay on their losing streak and us pick up our first win of the season."