Morgan State beat back a frantic Howard charge in the final five minutes last night and escaped with a 76-74 victory to advance to the final of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament.
Morgan will play North Carolina A&T in tonight's 9 p.m. final. A&T, the conference's regular-season champion, beat South Carolina State, 64-61, in last night's other semifinal.
Howard spotted its Baltimore rival an 18-point lead in the game's first 10 minutes, then steadily ate away at the advantage. Howard never caught up.
Morgan State went into a semistall early in the second half. The Bears' delay isn't the usual delay game. They hold the ball for about 20 seconds and then throw a bomb.
Howard remained patient and with Dorian Dent helping control the boards and freshman Louis Wilson scoring from outside, almost overtook Morgan in the final five minutes.
Morgan State made only one field goal and missed eight of 10 free throws in those five minutes, while Howard moved to within one point before letting the game slip away.
Dent, who led Howard with 25 points and 17 rebounds, scored 10 of his points in the last six minutes, all coming after he grabbed offensive rebounds.
Morgan's Darrell Davis missed a free throw, setting the stage for a Dent basket that got Howard to within three points at 75-72 with 46 seconds to play. Then Davis, trying to throw the ball inbounds, stepped over the line, turning the ball back to Howard.
Gary Adams drilled a 20-footer from the corner with 24 seconds left to cut Morgan's lead to 75-74. In a last-ditch effort to get the ball, Gerald Gaskins fouled Rob Brown.
The Morgan guard made the frist of his one-and-one, but missed the second with nine seconds left.
Morgan's Eric (The Pencil) Evans grabbed the rebound, and was tied up by Howard's Carlton Richardson. Howard controlled the jump ball, but couldn't get off a shot in the final four seconds.
"Sloppy or not sloppy, a win is a win," said Morgan Coach Aaron Johnson. "No games are easy. You never really have a game put away as long as the other team is still out there playing with you."
But if ever a team should have put a game away, it was Morgan last night.
It was established early that Howard had no one who could handle 6-foot-8 Anthony Young underneath as he bulled his way to 14 first-half points and 26 for the game.
Howard turned over the ball seven times on its first 10 possessions and Morgan turned the mistakes into 14 quick points. Ten straight points gave the Bears a 30-12 lead with 9:35 to go in the first period, and Howard looked out of the game without ever being in it.
But Coach A. B. Williamson settled the Eison down and their full-court pressure started getting to the impatient Bears.
"I knew the lead we had at first wasn't safe because I knew they'd do some things differently that would give us trouble," Johnson said.
"I knew we'd come back, but we got so far behind it just took too much out of us," Williamson countered.
"It's the same problem we've had all year. We just can't play 40 minutes. We either play the first half or the second half," he added. "Maybe we were too fired up, I don't know. I like the way we came back, but if we would have played with our heads more, we wouldn't have had to come so far."
Howard finished its season with a 15-8 record.