Baltimore, MD As the final seconds of Morgan State’s 48-47 win over Bethune-Cookman ticked off the clock Monday night at Hill Field House, coach Todd Bozeman’s blood pressure couldn’t help but reach a fever pitch. After misses from CJ Reed and Albert Abrahams allowed the clock to reach zero, Bozeman’s Bears finally had a chance to breathe after a trying weekend.
For the second straight weekend, Morgan State was forced to play on back to back days due to snow. But unlike the previous weekend, Morgan’s opponent Monday night was a solid Bethune-Cookman team that hadn’t played since a Friday night win at Coppin State. While both teams had to deal with the weekend storm, Bozeman’s Bears were forced to shuffle their plans on multiple occasions, as their game against Florida A&M was pushed back from Saturday to Sunday afternoon; then pushed back again to Sunday night just two hours before they were scheduled to tip off.
Bozeman confirmed to me that he reached out to MEAC officials regarding the scheduling troubles; but said the FAMU game had to be played because MSU would have had to foot the bill for the Rattlers to go back to Tallahassee and return this week. Bozeman was quick to point out that both George Washington and Georgetown had played games Saturday despite the snow, and he would have preferred to have played that game as scheduled.
With the Morgan campus closed, the Bears clearly felt the effects of cabin fever-as Bozeman was clearly shaken by events “off the basketball court” besides the weather. A school official later confirmed to me that two major contributors to the Bears team were involved in a scuffle during the weekend, with the altercation having an impact on the entire team.
Bozeman said the troubles surrounding the team were evident in shootaround before the game against the Wildcats, and he was frustrated by the “lazy” free-throw shooting his team practiced. It was evident during the game, as the Bears shot just 12-23 from the free throw line.
Through all of that, and despite all-world guard Reggie Holmes scoring just 6 points (including his own dreadful 1-6 performance at the charity stripe); the Bears managed to win Monday night. With their win, they improved to 18-7 overall, 10-0 in conference play. They have 6 conference games left on their schedule (a date with Winston-Salem State Saturday and an ESPNU BracketBuster trip to Murray State will give them a break); and with this difficult weekend behind them, they have a realistic shot at going 16-0 in conference play. A trip to Delaware State appears to be the only REAL road block between the Bears and perfection, although a home date with rival Coppin State to end the season could always pose a challenge.
BUT-nothing will be able to match the challenge they faced over the last 48 hours.
Moving forward, Bozeman knows his team will be forced to “build” on the adversity they battled over the weekend. Simply recognizing they survived isn’t enough. They will have a bulls-eye on their back every time out as they try to win a 3rd straight MEAC regular season title and get the top spot in the MEAC Tournament, where they’ll be looking for their 2nd straight bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Those accomplishments would be even more special if they could be combined with an undefeated season in conference play.
The Bears aren’t talking about that possibility though, at least not when Todd Bozeman is in earshot. Continuing the theme of a “1 game season”, Bozeman told me his players know better than to even discuss the possibility. That being said, the reality is that perfection is a real possibility. Reaching 16-0 in the MEAC would be a first for Morgan, and would mark the first time in conference history that a team not named Coppin State finished the regular season undefeated (the Eagles have actually pulled off the feat 4 times).
It’s out there. It’s attainable. However, if the Bears go 16-0 in the regular season but lose in the semifinals of the MEAC Tournament, going 16-0 won’t help them at all when they face their first round opponent in the NIT.
But at the same point, it would be a hell of an accomplishment. And a pursuit worthy of support from alumni and Baltimore sports fans alike.