No one among the standing room only house at Howard University's Burr Gymnasium last night was happier to see the Bison's 6-foot-7 senior John Spencer go to the bench with his fourth personal foul than Morgan State sophomore Marcus Sheffield.

When Howard's power forward sat down with 13:44 remaining, Morgan State led, 51-50, and 6-8 sophomore Sheffield had seven points. When Spencer returned with 7:09 to go, Sheffield had 17 points, the Golden Bears had a 12-point lead and were comfortably on their way to an 86-83 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference victory.

Troy Brown scored 27 points and Sheffield finished with 20 as the Golden Bears closed the regular season at 13-16, 7-8.

For Howard, which lost for the fourth time in five outings, the result meant the Bison (15-12, 9-7) would finish fourth in the MEAC.

The Bison, who were led by Spencer and George Hamilton with 22 points each, will host Morgan State in a first-round MEAC playoff game on Tuesday. The conference tournament winner will receive a bid to the upcoming 64-team NCAA basketball tournament.

Another factor for Morgan State last night was 6-7 sophomore Damone Williams, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half.

"We didn't play inside at all in the first half, and we didn't play much defense," said Morgan State Coach Nat Frazier.

"The guys just didn't get the ball inside to our big guys, but in the second half, they did."

Morgan State, which trailed, 41-35, at the half, outscored the Bison, 10-2, to start the second half. A free throw by Raylon Adams with 14:32 remaining gave the Bears a 48-47 lead and they never trailed again while shooting 61 percent from the floor after intermission.

"John Spencer is the key to our team because we are so thin inside," Howard Coach A.B. Williamson said of his star player who had a game-high 17 rebounds despite sitting out so much time with foul problems.

"Nos. 33 {Sheffield} and 40 {Williams} were very physical-type players, and when John went out, that left them in there to roam free and push inside."

The Bison were also hurt by a first-half injury to forward Howard Spencer, John's brother. After scoring 13 first-half points, he was hampered by a bruise to his right (shooting) elbow that contributed to him making only two of 11 second-half shots.

"What we have to do is not forget about this game, but to learn from it," said Williamson, whose team also was an 82-64 loser to Morgan State earlier this year.

"Then we have to come back in here on Tuesday and beat them in the game that really counts."