Back to Back Bears Bring “Baltimore Toughness” to Tourney Return

March 13, 2010 | Glenn Clark

Winston-Salem, NC “Never quit.”

When a reporter asked Morgan State star guard Reggie Holmes what “Baltimore Toughness” was following the Bears’ 68-61 victory over South Carolina State in the finals of the MEAC Basketball Tournament, he didn’t hesitate to answer.

“There were plenty of times when we were down, I just looked up at the scoreboard and never quit.”

Morgan State’s performance in Saturday afternoon’s final at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum was by no means a thing of beauty. After taking an early 30-20 advantage, the Bears had every opportunity to blow the Bulldogs away. Instead, they watched the Bulldogs run off the game’s next 11 points and settled in for a battle to the final wire.

Things haven’t gone easily for Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State squad this season, and they’ve been forced to look directly into the face of adversity multiple times.

They came into the season as two-time defending regular season champions and defending MEAC Tournament champions. There was a bulls-eye on their back every time they stepped on the floor.

They had to replace nearly 30 points per game they received a season ago from Jermaine “Itchy” Bolden, Marquise Kately and Rogers Barnes.

They had to re-group after finding out that freshman Anthony “Big Ant” Anderson would miss the season after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

All of this came before the season even began.

After opening the season, they had to respond to a disappointing 8-7 stretch to open the season, which included surprising losses to teams like Loyola, Appalachian State and Eastern Kentucky.

Twice this season they had games scheduled for Saturday that were forced to be played on Sunday due to snowstorms in the Baltimore area. In both cases, they ended up having to play games on back to back nights.

With a perfect regular season in MEAC play clearly a goal, they again had to regroup when they lost a heartbreaker to South Carolina State February 15th at Hill Field House.

Even during the MEAC Tournament they were tested. Not only by South Carolina State in the title game, but also by Hampton in the semifinals Friday night.

Every time, they were forced to dig deep and show a real level of fortitude.

Those in basketball circles might well call it “Baltimore Toughness.”

Morgan State has been lead all season by the school’s new all-time leading scorer-Reggie Holmes. Holmes hails from Cherry Hill, played at St. Frances, and exemplifies everything you’d expect from an undersized baller from Charm City.

Grit. Determination. A chip on the shoulder. Baltimore Toughness.

We’ve seen it before from players like Juan Dixon, Muggsy Bogues, Shawnta Rogers, Kenny Hasbrouck, Jack McClinton, Sam Cassell, Malcolm Delaney, Kurk Lee and currently from Maryland’s Sean Mosley.

None were taller than 6’3″ (Holmes is actually the biggest-he’s listed at a VERY favorable 6’4″), few had the type of “complete” game that coaches desire. Yet all had a certain something that separated them from the guys they would go up against.

We call it Baltimore Toughness.

“It’s a grittiness that Baltimore players have, definitely. It’s a toughness that comes with growing up in the city. I love it. I love that part of it” described coach Todd Bozeman. It comes out. You see it in the player, you see it in practice, you see it in how they compete. I mean, Cherry Hill’s tough, West Baltimore’s tough. It’s a tough place, and it really reflects in their play.”

It would of little surprise to know that the three biggest leaders on Bozeman’s team would all hail from a city that made them tough.

Besides Holmes, fellow senior Troy Smith is a Baltimore product (Douglass). Also 6’4″, Smith is often the glue that holds the Bears together-similar to Byron Mouton from the 2002 National Championship Maryland team. He dives after balls, he scraps with any player that will go after him. And when the game is on the line, he wants to go right to the rim.

With South Carolina State crawled back within 6 points in the 2nd half of Morgan’s win Saturday-Smith went right to the hoop. He would finish the day with 12 points, and the Bulldogs would get no closer than within 6 the rest of the game.

Forward Kevin Thompson is also from Baltimore (Walbrook), but is clearly not small. At 6’9″, he represents a different type of Baltimore Toughness. Thompson wasn’t particularly pursued coming out of high school-and had to overcome some academic troubles.

Yet he’s stood toe to toe with adversity throughout his career at Morgan State, including Saturday.

The Bears had a clear game plan to work inside against an undersized SC State squad. After two early hoops to open the game, the Bulldogs responded. Thompson took just 6 points to the locker room at the break.

Facing adversity, Thompson dug deep. He finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds thanks to a dominant 2nd half, and was named MEAC Tournament MVP.

Yet it isn’t just those players (or the others from Baltimore on the roster) that show toughness. “As a leader, it spreads to the whole team” said Holmes.

There may be no greater example of this than 6’0″ Ohio guard Joe Davis. Some near the program have said that Joe Davis brought a more laid back attitude into his junior season. After being close to guys like Troy Smith and Reggie Holmes, that toughness apparently rubbed off.

In the Championship game alone, Davis finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds. All of those numbers (expect for 1 rebound) came in the second half.

7 points and 5 rebounds from a 6’0″ guard in ONE HALF of a conference championship game. That’s toughness.

The Bears will need this type of toughness moving forward. After a Selection Sunday celebration on campus, they’ll have to prepare to face a team that will almost undoubtedly be amongst the 10 best teams in the country. They faced a similar task a season ago, and were crushed 82-54 by Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners in Kansas City.

Are the Bears primed to join the likes of Coppin State and Hampton amongst MEAC teams who have pulled stunning upsets in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe not.

But we can be sure that if nothing else, this Bears team will be a “tough” out regardless of who their opponent is.

-G

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Winston-Salem, NC
To steal a line from Morgan State Play-by-Play voice Lamont Germany, I am “worldwide courtside” here at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem for the 2010 MEAC Tournament Championship Game. The Morgan State Bears battle the South Carolina State Bulldogs, with the conference title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

After a 15-1 MEAC regular season, Todd Bozeman’s Bears are looking to clinch their 2nd consecutive trip to the Big Dance. Not only would it be the first time in school history they would make consecutive Tournament appearances, it would also be the first time ANY Baltimore school would make consecutive Tournament appearances (Coppin State leads the way for most overall Tournament appearances with 4).

This is by no means an easy win for the Bears, as their only blemish during conference play this season was a 71-68 defeat at the hands of SC State back on February 15th at Hill Field House. They enter tonight’s game on a 6 game win streak, including victories over North Carolina A&T and a tough fought win over Hampton last night here in the MEAC Tournament.

Follow below for updates throughout this afternoon’s contest. You can see today’s game on ESPN2 and chat while the game is being played. You can also follow us on Twitter (@WNST), as I’ll post updates there as well.

-G

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4:07pm-That’s it. 68-61 is your final. Morgan wins the MEAC Tournament, advances to their 2nd straight NCAA Tournament!

4:06pm-Let the celebration begin…..

4:05pm-65-59 now with 32 seconds left to play in the game. Morgan just has to make their freebies…

4:02pm-15 now for Reggie Holmes. 65-54 Bears. 1:03 to play. Morgan fans in attendance are feeling it….

….but Khalif Toombs drills a big 3 to make it 65-57 with 56 seconds to play. Bears have more free throw shooting to do here….

4:00pm-That’s a big 11 points now for Joe Davis, and Morgan is just 92 seconds away from Dancing again. 63-54 Bears.

3:58pm-A timeout from Todd Bozeman with 2:21 to play and his team up 8. Wants to make sure they stay settled…

3:53pm-John Long got the big rebound, but couldn’t connect from the free throw line. It’s great to have a senior be able to give you minutes off the bench, but you can’t have a senior (or anyone else) missing the front end of a 1 and 1 at this point.

Kevin Thompson has just absolutely dominated here in the 2nd half….

3:51pm-It’s 57-48 Morgan with 3:39 to play as we reach our final official timeout. The Bears will need to make sure they make free throws down the stretch…

3:47pm-You had to know SC State wasn’t going away. Todd Bozeman takes a timeout with 4:45 to play and his team up 56-46. They can taste it, but they can’t let the Bulldogs keep getting open jumpers.

3:41pm-DeWayne Jackson with the dunk on the breakaway, then a turnover forced inside, and the Bears can taste it up 52-40 with 6:52 to play. Todd Bozeman doesn’t feel comfortable quite yet though….

CHECK THAT. Foul called there. Interesting decision. That’s Kevin Thompson’s 3rd personal, 6th team foul on MSU.

3:39pm-I just had to turn in my MVP Vote-which I gave to Reggie Holmes, but might regret not giving to Kevin Thompson. He’s been outstanding today, and has 16 points now on the day. I also gave a Tournament team vote to DeWayne Jackson.

50-40 Morgan with 7:39 to play. They’ll want to start working clock…

3:30pm-12 points now for Kevin Thompson-he and Reggie Holmes each have a dozen to lead the way. 46-38 Bears with under 10 minutes to play.

3:24pm-A big stretch here for Morgan, as they extend their lead to 42-34 thanks to a GREAT fake by Troy Smith. They need to put this away now, as SC State calls another timeout with 12:24 to play.

3:20pm-Certainly the focus and intensity required to win a conference title wasn’t there for Morgan to start the 2nd half. Their 3 point shooting is the great equalizer, but they can’t force that. 36-34 Bears now with 14 minutes to play.

3:18pm-Apparently drinking Sprite is ALSO not okay at the MEAC Tournament (the humorous part is that I NEVER drink soda), as the same MEAC official asked me to pour it into a Pepsi cup.

Is my laptop okay, or will they tell me I need to put a sticker over the HP brand name???

3:15pm-Not the way Morgan wanted to start the 2nd half. They’re down 32-31 at the first official timeout, 15:59 to play.

Watching Todd Bozeman’s facial expressions is almost as entertaining as watching the game. He hasn’t been happy much here in the 2nd half, where his team has been outscored 9-2.

3:12pm-The Bulldogs had tied things up by scoring the first 5 points of the half, but a Reggie Holmes jumper gives Morgan the lead right back-it’s 31-29. That’s 10 for Holmes.

3:01pm-DeWayne Jackson leads all scorers with 9 points, Reggie Holmes also has 8 for the Bears. No Bulldogs have more than 5 points-both Brandon Smalls and Westley Telfare. Bears were out-rebounded 17-15 in the first half.

A humorous moment at halftime-as a MEAC official asked me to take off my hat. If you’ve seen me out anywhere, you know I wear a plain black hat with a small Under Armour logo on the side to every event I attend (including church). I’ve been asked to take it off at plenty of bars/clubs; but never at a game, including NFL playoffs, NCAA Tournament, NBA playoffs, etc. I don’t care that much (it’s a hat); but it is strange to know that the MEAC wants media covering their event to appear “grown and sexy” the same way club owners do.

2:52pm-Reggie Holmes can’t finish his last drive of the half, and Morgan State will take a 5 point lead to the break. 29-24 Bears. I’ll be back shortly.

2:49pm-Danny Smith, Rodney Stokes and Joe Davis have all gotten off the bench for the Bears today, but none of them has been able to reach the scoreboard. DeWayne Jackson certainly has though…he now has 9 to lead the way.

SC State Coach Tim Carter takes a timeout with his team down 5 and 41 seconds to play in the half. There’s a 10 difference between the shot clock and game clock.

2:40pm-Troy Smith finally ends what was an 11-0 run for the Bulldogs. We’re at the final official timeout of the first half; Morgan leads 22-21. 3:58 to play.

2:35pm-7 unanswered from the Bulldogs, and this is a 3 point game again. Bears had a real chance to run away and hide….

2:29pm-Great finish there by Douglass’ own Troy Smith to extend Morgan’s advantage to 20-10. I thought he had gotten in the air a bit too early, but he did a great job to roll that one in. We’re at our 3rd official timeout of the half with 7:30 to play.

2:27pm-Being this close, you can hear the entire conversation between players and officials. Clearly Reggie Holmes was fouled going after that loose ball, but the officials got together to make sure it was known that he had stepped out of bounds BEFORE he was fouled. Good communication.

DeWayne Jackson with a pair of 3 balls now, and Morgan is up 18-10.

2:25pm-With Sean Thomas in trouble, the Bears take their first timeout. They’re up 12-7 after a DEEP 3-ball from Reggie Holmes. Anything inside 40 has to be considered in his range…

2:21pm-Morgan State maintains their 9-7 advantage at the 2nd official timeout; 11:48 to play in the half. With the Bulldogs shooting just 2/11 from the field early on, you’d imagine the Bears should have more than just their current 2 point lead.

2:19pm-The Bears finally get their first jumper-a 3 ball in the corner from Reggie Holmes. If he gets hot, the Bears could build a big lead quickly. It’s 9-7 Morgan early on.

2:16pm-Reggie Holmes finally hit a jumper-but it was waived off due to a foul on the Bears. They move back ahead thanks to a layip from Sean Thomas. Still looking to hit their first jump shot, DeWayne Jackson has checked in.

2:13pm-South Carolina State up 5-4 at first official TO with 15:58 to play in half. #Bears yet to hit a jumper. They’ve tried to get inside every time down-which is smart-but it hasn’t gotten them points since the 2nd possession of the game.

2:04pm-Brandon Smalls actually got the starts for SC State, not Carrio Bennett. Bears will look to go inside to Kevin Thompson-the MEAC’s premiere big man.

1:56pm-Your South Carolina State starters are Darnell Porter, Jason Flagler, Rio Pitt, Khalif Tombs and Carrio Bennett.

Morgan State starters are Ameer Ali, Kevin Thompson, Troy Smith, Reggie Holmes and Sean Thomas.

1:52pm-You’ll know where the Morgan State fans are in the crowd here at the LJVM today when you hear the “Woot Woot” chant, especially Reggie Holmes hits a jump shot.

1:31pm-The atmosphere here in Winston-Salem isn’t quite as electric as it was last night in Greensboro at the ACC Tournament, but it still has a big game feel. The arena here is the home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons-and holds some 14,000+ seats. They won’t all be filled for this one, but quite a bit of the lower bowl is expected to be full.

There is a DJ spinning behind the baseline to my left (I’m courtside looking at the floor the same way it will be shown on TV); which is a pretty cool touch. The Morgan band is behind the baseline to my right, which is the only disappointing part of my seat-as the SC State band is immediately to my left.

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