Despite a nearly packed house Monday night at Hill Field House, things looked ominous for Morgan State against crosstown rival Coppin State when top scorer Tiwian Kendley left the game just over a minute in, taking a hard fall and needing the help of a trainer to walk to the bench.
To the relief of the vocal senior night crowd, the junior soon returned. And it was his play in the game's final minute that made the biggest difference.
After the Bears nearly blew a 19-point second-half lead, Kendley drew a critical offensive foul, then made a pair of free throws with 12.5 seconds to play, helping them preserve a 71-66 win before an announced 4,078.
"He's a warrior He's a savage," Morgan coach Todd Bozeman said of Kendley, who reinjured his bruised lower back. "I knew if he could walk, he was going to play."
Kendley finished with a game-high 21 points to go along with 16 by forward Kyle Thomas and 10 points and 10 rebounds by forward Phillip Carr.
Still, it almost wasn't enough.
After leading, 53-34, with just over 15 minutes left, Morgan began to get careless with the ball. Repeatedly down the stretch, the Bears succumbed to Coppin's full-court pressure.
Dejuan Clayton (20 points) nailed three foul shots, after getting leveled on a 3-point attempt with 2 minutes left to get the Eagles within two. Still trailing by two with time winding down, Coppin had a chance to tie, but Kendley stepped in front of forward Chas Brown to draw a charge with 12.5 seconds left.
"I wasn't actually trying to take a charge," Kendley said. "I just saw him come off the screen, and once he came off the screen he set up illegally [in the circle] and they called it."
"That was a tough call," Coppin coach Michael Grant said. "You call a [charge] in the crunch part of the game, that's tough. But we can't play and make the referees make the last call."
Kendley made three of four free throws in the final 10 seconds to seal the win.
Morgan State (14-14 overall, 11-4 MEAC) moved back to the .500 mark with only one regular-season game, Thursday at UMES, before next month's conference tournament. The Bears, who had won just 16 games combined over the previous two seasons, now have won 11 of their past 15, and are looking for their first winning record since 2013.
A successful tournament could give them their best overall record since claiming a MEAC title in 2010.
Coppin, which had entered the night having won three of its past four, fell to 8-22 (7-8), matching its overall loss total of a year ago.
Upon re-entering the game after a timeout, Kendley – now the MEAC's leading scorer after qualifying by virtue of number of games played – scored seven points in a little over a minute, nailing a 3-pointer to start the Bears on a 13-0 run midway through the first half.
Unlike the teams' earlier matchup, a two-point Morgan win on the road last month, Coppin could do little on offense, shooting just 39 percent in the first half while committing 12 turnovers.
Up by seven later in the half, the Bears then used a 7-0 run, started by Kyle Thomas' reverse layup, to extend their lead to 39-25.
"We have to get to a point where we're not playing catch-up basketball," Grant said. "We're getting to a point where we're getting ourselves down and try to fight our way back into games. If we can get 40 minutes like [the end], we're going to beat a lot of people."
Bozeman said his team needs to learn how to finish off opponents as it heads into postseason.