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The Morgan State men’s basketball program had a prime opportunity this weekend to separate itself from the rest of the pack in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Northern Division. Instead, the Bears found themselves in the middle of it.
Morgan State could not hold on to a small lead in the second half and went scoreless over the final 2:30, opening the door for visiting Norfolk State to escape Hill Field House in Baltimore with a 68-65 victory on Sunday afternoon. Senior shooting guard Devante Carter led the Spartans with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists despite being the only player on his team to score in double figures.
Redshirt senior forward J.J. Matthews added nine points and six rebounds as Norfolk State (12-7, 7-4 MEAC) completed a two-game sweep and overtook the Bears (11-6, 6-4) for first place in the league standings.
Kevin Broadus, whose Morgan State squad dropped into a second-place tie with Coppin State (7-12, 6-4), recognized the chance his team let slip by with back-to-back setbacks to the Spartans, who won, 74-69, on Saturday.
“I’d be lying if I said it definitely wasn’t a missed opportunity,” he said. “But we’ve still got life. We’re still right there with the rest of them.”
With the win, Norfolk State could clinch a share of the division’s regular-season championship by defeating Delaware State (1-12, 0-7) on Feb. 24.
“No matter if we’re in first place for the next seven days or for the remainder of the season, we’re in first place right now,” Spartans coach Robert Jones said. “We have seven conference wins and nobody else has seven conference wins. And whatever shakes out between Morgan, Coppin and Delaware, if we win one more game against Delaware State, we guarantee ourselves a share of that Northern Division championship. So this was a huge win for us. We still have another game, and the job’s not yet done, but this was a huge game for us.”
The second half told the story. After clinging to a 40-37 lead at halftime, the Bears got five straight free throws in the first 41 seconds from senior small forward Troy Baxter — three after getting fouled while attempting a 3-pointer and two after drawing a flagrant foul from redshirt senior small forward Kyonze Chavis.
Morgan State extended its advantage to nine points twice — at 48-39 with 16:46 left and at 50-41 with 15:53 remaining — for its largest leads of the game. But Baxter picked up his fourth foul of the game at the 13:53 mark, and he and his game-high 21 points took a seat on the bench with the Bears leading 52-44.
Norfolk State took advantage, embarking on a 14-6 spurt that tied the score at 58 with 7:39 left.
Morgan State junior shooting guard Moel Camara nailed a midrange jumper to stem the bleeding, but the Spartans scored eight of the next 13 points to assume a 66-65 lead with 2:01 remaining.
After a few fruitless possessions by both sides, Bears shooting guard Malik Miller drove the right side of the lane and was fouled with 6.5 seconds left. But Miller, who entered the game shooting 75.4% from the free-throw line, missed both attempts, and Carter grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled.
Carter drained both free throws, giving Morgan State one final chance to send the game to overtime. But junior point guard Sherwyn Devonish-Prince Jr.’s pass to Miller in the right corner was blocked by Chavis’ face, and the clock ran out before the Bears could collect the loose ball.
Miller spent about 15 minutes after the game working on his free throws, and Broadus refused to blame the junior.
“He’s been pretty good all year. It happens,” Broadus said. “We’ve just got to get better with that, with our free throws. We didn’t shoot bad today from the free-throw line 1/8 78.6% on 11-for-14 3/8, but those were the two that we had to have, and we didn’t get them. So the outcome was what it was.”
Baxter, who added five rebounds, went scoreless over the final 19:19, and Jones said Baxter’s drought was a significant factor in Norfolk State’s comeback.
“A lot was going through him, and we tried to make a conscious effort of attacking him defensively,” Jones said. “We know that he does jump around a lot and wants to block shots, and that being said, sometimes you’re going to catch a foul, and he happened to catch four of them. So we knew we had to get him out of the game some way, somehow because he was getting into a rhythm and we knew he was in for a big night. And 21 points is still a big night, but he was in for a bigger night if we didn’t get him out of rhythm. When he got back into the game, we started denying him the ball, and he got a little frustrated, and the rest was what it was.”
Devonish-Prince Jr. finished with 12 points and five rebounds, and Camara, a Baltimore resident and transfer from Baltimore City Community College, had a career-high 11 points off the bench. Broadus acknowledged the effect of Baxter’s absence on the offense.
“It impacted it, but we’ve got other capable guys that can do some things,” he said. “We’ve just got to learn from this. It’s tough. I thought we could win the game, but the outcome shows that we didn’t. So we’ve just got to keep working at it. We still have some games left. We have two left next weekend at Delaware State and then we have the tournament. And I think hopefully we’ll be peaking by then and we can win some games in the tournament.”
MORGAN STATE@DELAWARE STATE