UDC Coach Wil Jones had warned his team the stall was coming soon. He just didn't know when.
Morgan State slowed the tempo tonight, but the Firebirds adjusted in the second half and beat the hosts at their own game, 34-17, before a somber crowd of 850 at Hill Field House.
With only one starter as tall as 6-foot-6, MSU, which had experienced minimal recent success with a delay game, surprised the fast-breaking Firebirds with an all-out freeze. The strategy worked for the most part as UDC could manage only a 9-8 lead at the half. The Firebirds should have been at least 10 points ahead, but made only four of 16 shots from the floor.
In the second half, the Bears continued to hold the ball near midcourt, refusing to look at the basket. But UDC (12-4) pressured them into several critical mistakes to get some breathing room.
"We just had to be patient and execute our plays," said UDC forward Mike Britt, whose dunk midway in the second half changed the game. "We didn't expect this, but Coach Jones had told us all year someone would do it against us. It didn't bother us. Once we got up one or two points, they had to come to us."
Earl Jones, who finished with 19 points, nine coming from the free throw line, made four shots from the line, Greg Carson scored from the corner and James Neal scored on a left-handed driving layup to give the Firebirds their biggest lead, 17-12, with 13:24 to play.
But the deliberate Bears never waivered from their original game plan. They continued to play keep-away, hoping the Firebirds would relax on defense.
"The kids played excellent defense," said Jones. "Morgan played against everyone else so I thought they might play with us. This is the first time my kids have seen this and they handled it very well. And then we got confident with it."
MSU, which made only eight of 29 shots from the floor over the tall Firebird zone, committed one of its 18 turnovers and the Firebirds started one of their few fast breaks in the game.
Britt, who finished with only five points, made the play of the game when he took a long pass from Phillip Morgan, hung in the air long enough for Darrell Emerson to catch up and foul him before double pumping and dunking. Britt's basket made it 21-14, with 11:51 left and the Bears' strategy obviously had failed. But MSU still held the ball.
"The kids didn't understand my instructions then," said MSU coach Billy Newton. "I wanted them to be more aggressive on offense. We held the ball bcause UDC is a very big team. If we tried to run with them, we might have been blown out in the first half."