Howard University stifled Morgan State with a strong defense in the second half and came away with a 60-54 victory in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game that was terminated with 16 seconds left following a near-brawl at Hill Field House.
Howard, 4-1 in the conference and 13-6 overall, had all but wrapped up the game when Morgan States Robert Brown fouled Bison forward James Ratiff, who was attempting to add a little salt to the wound with a breakaway dunk.
Brown grabbed Ratiff's arm and was whistled for a foul. The 6-foot-8 Ratiff, upset because he thought Brown was going to undercut him, abruptly turned and hit him with the ball.
"I hurt my ribs when I was undercut on a play at Evansville this year," said Ratiff, who finished tonight's game with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The 5-foot-10 Brown charged Ratiff, and both benches emptied. A handful of the 4,500 fans also rushed onto the court, but the coaches and security officers quickly separated the players and there were no injuries. Officials Louis Grillo and Bob Barnett called the game at that point.
"I'm sorry the game had to end that way," said Howard Coach A. B. Williamson. "You have to maintain a cool head in situations like that."
The unfortunate incident took some of the glow off a tenacious defensive effort by the Bison, who trailed, 35-28, at intermission.
Ballhawking Rodney Wright and Nate Speight applied pressure on the shaky Bear backcourt and forced countless errors. Howard converted six MSU turnovers into 10 points to jump ahead, 38-35, with 15:18 left.
Morgan, burned badly by Howard 97-64, in an earlier meeting, managed to regain the lead, 44-42, on a long bank shot by Steve Jenkins with 11 minutes to play.
But the same kind of errors that have plagued the Bears (4-13) all season resurfaced. Three turnovers and two missed shots helped Howard rush ahead, 50-44.
"Had we made our free throws in that period," said Williamson, referring to six straight misses by Larry Spriggs, "we would have been farther ahead. But we were patient near the end, and played better defense."
The Bison's delay offense broke down long enough to allow Morgan State to tie the game at 54 with three minutes left. Mike Warren hit three long jump shots, including the tying basket, in that spurt.
Ratiff hit a running bank shot 30 seconds later to put Howard ahead to stay, 56-54. Following a turnover and a missed shot by Warren, Spriggs slightly redeemed himself by sinking two from the line to give Howard a 58-54 advantage with 1:02 left.
"I just couldn't get my touch together," said Spriggs, who had 12 points and eight rebounds. "I tried to make up for it by working the boards. We had beaten them so easy before that we may have been a little over-confident in the first half. Our mind was not set on the game. In the second half we just calmed down."
Wright's free throws closed out the scoring with 37 seconds left. Morgan, which shot 54 percent from the floor, then missed three straight short attempts before Spriggs grabbed the rebound. His long pass to Ratiff was the prelude to the game-ending fireworks.