Lady Bears fall to Norfolk State in semifinals after 53-51 battle

The women’s basketball team finished the season 18-8 (11-4 MEAC) after falling short to Norfolk State in the MEAC tournament semifinals.


Kristian Reynolds

Senior guard Ashia McCalla attempts a shot. She was selected for All-MEAC honors.

Julien Johnson, Contributing Writer

NORFOLK, Va. – Morgan State’s women’s team lost a thriller 53-51 against Norfolk State in the semifinals of the MEAC Tournament at Scope Arena.

It took a fadeaway jumper from the baseline by Norfolk’s senior guard Camille Downs with 1.1 remaining to put the Lady Bears out of the tournament, end their five-game winning streak and perhaps ending their season.

“Unfortunately we came up short,”  Morgan head coach Edward Davis said.

No. 2 seed Norfolk State advanced to the championship round of the MEAC Tournament and will face No. 1 seed Howard University on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN+).

Two years ago, Morgan was supposed to play Norfolk with the exact same seeding in 2020 in the MEAC tournament, but the game was canceled due to COVID.

Going into this game, the season series between Morgan and Norfolk State was tied at 1-1 after Morgan pulled out a 51-48 win on Feb. 21. 

That game got a lot of attention after a body slam at the end of the game led to 9 total ejections with 6.2 left in the game.

Friday’s highly anticipated matchup didn’t disappoint.

Davis emphasized tournament-play defense entering this game and his words proved prophetic. 

This game was chippy from start to finish.

Players were diving on the floor, jumping passes, forcing turnovers and forcing each other to adjust throughout the game.

The Lady Bears started the game with an 11-0 lead with their routine stifling defense. However, that lead did not last.

The Lady Spartans rallied with a 16-6 run to end the first quarter trailing Morgan 17-16. From there, neither team could ever find solace in a comfortable lead.

Morgan never grew comfortable with guarding Norfolk junior guard Deja Francis, who wheeled her away into the heart of the defense and scored a game-high 19 points.

Morgan had to adjust its offense due to the 3-2 zone defense Norfolk used for the majority of the game.

“We generally press a lot more,” Norfolk coach Larry Vickers said. 

Vickers knew he had to switch up the game plan in order to have a better chance of winning the game.

“That’s just how much respect I have for the [Morgan] players,” he said.

Vickers knew this 51-53 win wasn’t the most ideal game, but what they did got the job done against Morgan.

The Lady Bears were taken out of their game of mid-range and paint shots. After halftime, they seemed to adjust well by shooting 4 for 11 from three-point range, but after ten more attempts in the second half, they couldn’t hit another.

“I don’t ever tell my [players] not to shoot the ball,” Davis said.

He was very proud of his team’s ability to play outside, and inside and out. With a buzzer-beater ending to a physical, defensive-minded game, Morgan’s coach tipped his hat to the Spartans. 

“Could’ve been anybody’s game,” he said.

With less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Morgan trailed by three points. Over the next two possessions, the Lady Bears were fouled and their players attempted free throws. 

On both trips to the free-throw line, they made 1 of 2 shots, tying the game at 49 with 49 seconds remaining.

Norfolk junior Deja Francis found herself at the line where she converted both free throw attempts and put her team ahead 51-49. This was where things got hectic.

Adia Brisker took it inside to hit a clutch close shot off the backboard to knot the game at 51 and force Norfolk to take a timeout with 30 seconds left.

Norfolk decided to use the whole 30 seconds until it was time to take the final shot, and Morgan held them to a tough shot from Niya Fields that bounced off the rim. But it wasn’t over.

Downs (14 points, six rebounds and four steals) secured the rebound, and as time expired she put up a desperation short corner fadeaway jump shot that for all of a couple of seconds sucked the air out of the arena.

Once the shot dropped, Morgan players and fans stood speechless. Senior Charlene Shepherd shook her head in disbelief, while several of her teammates cried into towels from the bench. 

Morgan finished the season 18-8 (11-4 MEAC) while also leading the MEAC conference in steals with 289 on the season.

Both junior guard Adia Brisker and senior guard Ashia McCalla were selected to All-MEAC. Brisker was selected for All-MEAC 2nd team and All-MEAC defensive honors and McCalla was chosen for All-MEAC honors.

They ended the regular season in a three-way tie with Norfolk State and Howard University for the regular-season championship.

While the Bears missed an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, the women’s team may be invited to the WNIT Tournament.