Victory in Jamaica: Morgan State men’s basketball defeats Utah Valley 73-72 in overtime battle

The Bears kicked off the first round of the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic Tournament with a win against Utah Valley Friday night.

Julien Johnson and BearTV

Senior+forward+Malik+Miller+finished+with+20+points%2C+10+rebounds+and+four+steals.

Osaretin Iyare

Senior forward Malik Miller finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.

Julien Johnson, Contributing Writer

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Say one thing for the Morgan State men’s basketball team, the Bears have grit.

They showed it on Friday night in a thrilling 73-72 overtime victory against Utah Valley in the first round of the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic Tournament at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

“Our grit is what took us to the top tonight,” Kevin Broadus, Morgan State head coach, said. “We went up, went down. We came back, we went down. We came back and we never gave up. We should have won that game in regulation. But we didn’t. So we stayed with it and we came out victorious.”

The Bears fought to the end of a game that came down to defense, fouls and free throws.

Going into overtime, a section of the Jamaican crowd cheered “Let’s Go Morgan!”

Graduate student Toto Fagbenle hit two free throws with less than 45 seconds remaining in the game to put the Bears ahead by one point and for good. The Bears shut out the Wolverines from that point.

Utah Valley possessed the ball late in overtime. 

The Bears forced Wolverines’  junior guard Le’Tre Dartfield into a tough fadeaway jump shot on the right wing with 12 seconds left. Then Fagbenle sent a layup attempt from Utah’s senior guard Trey Woodbury out of bounds.

Fagbenle went to the line for the Bears, but missed two free throws. The Wolverines got another chance to secure victory. 

With .9 seconds left on the clock, Utah Valley junior Jaden McClanahan got off a clean three-point attempt, but he missed. He appeared to be fouled and his teammates celebrated a bit prematurely – the play was called under review. Referees determined the clock operator never started the clock and no foul occurred in the remaining seconds.

Broadus leaped and screamed for joy at this news and the Bears eked out an improbable victory.

Morgan State (2-3) arrived in this Jamaican paradise on Wednesday to prepare for two rounds in the tournament.

The Bears will now face Queens University at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the championship of the Rose Hall Division.

Earlier on Friday, Loyola Marymount defeated Georgetown 84-66 in the first round of the Montego Bay Division. LMU will now face Wake Forest, 75-63 winners over LaSalle.  

Morgan State needed to make better decisions on the court and play tougher in order to win that game after losing its previous game against the University of Akron 59-65.

Broadus asked his players to bring their physicality and smarts to the island for this tournament.

Players delivered.

Senior forward Malik Miller finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Senior guard Isaiah Burke finished with 15 points and junior forward Khalil Turner added 14 points.

Yet the Wolverines didn’t go down easy.

Utah Valley distracted opponents with a tough, bruising style of defense, led by 7-foot sophomore big man Aziz Bandaogo, who averages a double-double and three blocks per game.

He scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and finished with five blocks against the Bears.

Bandaogo factored in this game from the start, collecting three blocks in the first half. His size forced the Bears to find their way around and over his outstretched arms. His height required players to alter shots and adjust routes to the basket.

Still, the Bears responded with the toughness their coach called for just days before.  

Morgan started off the game by getting every loose ball, bumping Utah Valley on screens and coming together to get five steals and force nine turnovers at the half.

Every possession or two there was a Morgan State player on the ground, grinding.

In one sequence early in the first half, Miller stole the dribble of Justin Harmon. Harmon then stole it back, but finally, Miller stole it again for an easy layup.

This intensity carried into the second half as the Bears forced 20 turnovers with 11 on steals.

“Everything we do is defense first.” Miller said.

“This is a scrappy team. We’re gonna play hard. We’re gonna hustle. We’re gonna dive for loose balls. We’re gonna have each other’s backs. We’re gonna contest every shot. We’re never giving up. For me, our team looks at defense like that’s our number one thing,” Miller added.

The Bears’ tough defense came at a cost though because when they got undisciplined they committed unnecessary fouls.

Free throws kept the Wolverines in the game as they shot 28 for 34 on free throws while the Bears shot 10 for 17. Every foul call seemed to drain Morgan players, who hung their heads, frowned or made noise in disbelief.

Both teams even received a technical on one player near the end of the game. 

The grit and grind of both teams truly embodied the finish to this game as both teams committed sloppy turnovers and bad fouls to end the game, but it was the Bears who pulled out the win.

“We’ll take it any way that we can get it,” said Broadus, adding, “Just want us to play smarter. We play hard. But now we gotta learn to play smart.”