Men’s Basketball Fall and Rise to Beat Howard

Akira Kyles

The Morgan State men’s basketball team started this season with high expectations after being picked to win the conference in the preseason polls. Unfortunately, the season that started with so much promise, has turned into a frustrating affair for the team and Bear’s fans.

After Monday’s win against Howard their record is 9-14 overall, and 5-5 in the MEAC. That is good for seventh place out of 13 teams. For a team that people thought were going to dominate the conference, they have fallen short of their goals. They started the year off with an undefeated home record and two good non-conference wins versus South Florida and Mount St. Mary universities, but have fallen on hard times.

They started out the MEAC 3-0, after three straight home games. Those games were close battles, including a twenty-point comeback (UMES), and a last second game winning shot (Savannah State). It was a road trip to North Carolina that really started the downswing they are currently experiencing. Now, they have lost four out of six, including a close game to crosstown rivals Coppin State.

The reasons for this streak of bad games are many, but here are the top four:

Stiff Competition. The road trip started at North Carolina A&T, then onto North Carolina Central. Both team sit at the top of the conference standings and Central is the defending MEAC champion. They lost both games and seemed to lose confidence going into the next week. The game at A&T was highly competitive with the Aggies winning by two points. The Central game was not, as Morgan had no answers for the Eagles offense or defense.

Weak Competition. One thing that this team has become prone to do this season is play down to the level of the opponent. This was the case in the Coppin State and South Carolina State losses. The Coppin game was the perfect storm of timely shooting by the Eagles, and poor shooting from the Bears. They had their worst game of the season against South Carolina State.  After a week off, the Bears only managed 59 points while shooting less than 33% from the field.

Three Point Shooting. It went from being a strength of the team in the beginning of the season, to a liability lately. In the first part of the season they were shooting around 40% from three point range, making around five a game. It was a major part of their offense, but since the start of conference play they have struggled. They have shot less than 30% from three since January, but it is not just on offense that three pointers are hurting them.

Last season this team was number one in the country at defending the three pointer, holding opponents to 27% shooting. This year is another story, they have not defended the perimeter well, giving up eight threes a game, at 37% shooting. This has been the Achilles heel for the team, costing them big in recent games.

Lineup Changes. One of the stories going into the season was a team returning, all but one player, from a surprising upstart last season had chemistry. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. Senior guard Tiwian Kendley missed the first ten games of the season, and Junior forward Elijah Staley joined the team late, after the football season. Both of these players were inserted into starting roles, and the team had to make adjustments in the middle of the season. Kendley is averaging over 25 points a game, but the pace of the offense and the defenses they have faced, have changed because of his presence.

Coach Todd Bozeman has had to change starting lineups and rotations multiple times this season, including twice in the past couple games. He went with a completely different starting five at Norfolk State, a loss 76-65. Then came back with his two senior’s and leading scorers Kendley, and Phillip Carr back in the starting lineup in Monday’s win against Howard.

“We didn’t play hard the whole game, that’s the disappointing thing,” said Bozeman. ”We’re still trying to find ourselves as a group, you get a win here and there, but you’ve got to find yourselves as a group before you can really gel. We are still searching for that.”

Trending Upwards. Fortunately for Bears, they played their best game of the season versus Howard, beating them by almost 40 points 97-61. Carr and Kendley combined for 47 points, and freshman guard Kyson Rawls added 12 points, on four three pointers. Howard leading scorer, freshman R.J. Cole continued his scoring barrage (24 ppg) with 30 points, but no other Bison scored in double figures.

“The key [to the win] was following the game plan of what coach said,” said Kendley,” once you buy in, it’s hard to stop us. The key was basically don’t let their two guys get off, and we did a great job at doing that.”

The team did a great job of sharing the ball with 21 assists to 7 turnovers. They also found their touch from deep, making nine three pointers, shooting 45% from behind the arc. They also set a season high for points (97) and free throws made, with 28.

“We still have some other guys that need to grow, and step up to be able to contribute,” said Bozeman. “Ultimately, you are trying to prepare for that weekend in March and so we just want to have something to build on to keep going forward.”