- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bowie State was where it wanted to be — at home in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic regional final and on a second-half roll.

But despite an impressive comeback, the Bulldogs fell to Virginia Union 70-64 last night before a standing-room-only crowd of 4,000 at A.C. Jordan Arena. The visiting Panthers built a 24-point first-half lead before the Bulldogs rallied to the cut the margin to four late in the game. Then, Virginia Union’s Duan Crockett hit a critical 3-pointer to help earn his team a trip to next week’s Elite Eight in Grand Forks, N.D.

“That pretty much killed us,” said Bowie State coach Luke D’Alessio of Crockett’s shot. “Because I thought we had them pretty much where we wanted them.”

Bowie State was the region’s top seed, making it the host school. The Bulldogs, who closed the regular season ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history, were trying to make a serious run for their first national title.

Bowie State scored 14 straight points — concluding with a slashing layup by Isaiah Johnson — to cut the Panthers’ lead to 60-56 with 2:25 left. But Crockett’s open 3-pointer from the left corner reversed the momentum and widened the lead to seven. The Panthers (27-4) then made seven straight free throws to clinch the title.

Crockett led Virginia Union with 18 points, while 6-foot-4 teammate Antwan Walton posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year Lee Cook finished his Bulldogs’ career with 23 points and 12 assists.

Bowie State’s comeback wasn’t enough after a lackluster first half as Virginia Union built a 41-17 lead after a 29-6 run. The Panthers beat the Bulldogs in transition, got offensive rebounds and shut down Bowie State by using a sagging 2-3 zone defense to collapse around Cook to minimize his size advantage.

The Bulldogs (26-5) couldn’t bust the zone. Bowie State missed all nine of its 3-point attempts before halftime. While Cook made four of six shots in the first half, the rest of the team made only five of 23. Virginia Union caused six steals before intermission, and used its athleticism — particularly on rebounds and loose balls — to take a 41-20 lead at halftime.

“I haven’t seen our team play like that in a long time,” said D’Alessio, who led Bowie to its only Elite Eight in 2003 before falling in the national semifinals. “I didn’t expect it. I thought we were ready to play.”

The second half was almost as lopsided as the first, but in Bowie State’s favor. The Bulldogs applied pressure defense and began making shots while Virginia Union stalled and became tentative. Meanwhile, Cook used his physical 6-foot-9 frame to power the comeback.

“Late [in the game], he was a man and took it to the basket and kept scoring,” said Virginia Union coach Dave Robbins, whose team returns to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1998. “We couldn’t stop him.”

Ultimately, the rally fell short largely because of Crockett’s 3-pointer. The Bulldogs, who beat their CIAA rivals twice during the season, couldn’t overcome the abysmal first half and ended their season watching Virginia Union cut down the nets in their own building.

“We waited too long,” Bowie’s Kiyam Holloway said. “It was like, ‘We better bring it right now or it was the end.’ We wanted to go to North Dakota, but [the comeback] wasn’t enough.”

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