- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Todd Bozeman pulled the souvenir championship cap over his tear-filled eyes, then clapped hard and pumped his fist at the crowd. The mood lightened, and he wore the net around his neck as he quoted noted philosopher Jay-Z.

Forgive the Morgan State coach for soaking up the moment. Yes, he may have been here before _ but not for a long while.

Bozeman is headed back to the NCAA tournament after his Bears beat Norfolk State 83-69 on Saturday night in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game.

“Once you drink from that cup, you want to drink from it all the time,” Bozeman said.

Reggie Holmes scored 20 points, Jermaine Bolden added 18 and Kevin Thompson had 15 points and 11 rebounds to help the top-seeded Bears (23-11) claim a spot in the field of 65 for the first time.

They reeled off 18 consecutive points in the first half and 11 straight in the second, shot 49 percent and figured out the Spartans’ energetic full-court press in plenty of time to send Bozeman _ the two-time MEAC coach of the year _ to his first tournament since he guided California there in the mid-1990s.

The next stop for these Bears: The sport’s grandest stage, most likely as either a 15th or 16th seed. They entered with an unofficial RPI of 129, and their nonconference victories over Maryland and DePaul could be enough to keep them out of the Tuesday night opening-round game in Dayton _ where the MEAC champion has been sent in four of the past five years.

“We’re dancing. Everybody’s not dancing,” Bozeman said. “We get a dance, and we get a song, and we’re going to try to make the song last as long as we can.”

Michael Deloach, the MEAC’s leading scorer, finished with 30 points _ two shy of a career high _ for the third-seeded Spartans (13-18). They reached the league title game for the first time since joining Division I in 1997.

And they made things interesting late by cutting Morgan State’s lead to 64-58 on Corey Lyons’ drive down the lane with 5:51 remaining.

But Norfolk State came up empty on its next four trips downcourt, and the Bears took control. Holmes and Bolden started the decisive run with layups and Marquise Kately stuck back Thompson’s missed free throw to make it 75-58 with 3 minutes remaining.

Morgan State finished having made more free throws (25) than the Spartans attempted (28).

“I think we were gambling a little bit too much, and reaching, getting fouls called,” Deloach said.

Kately finished with 16 points for Morgan State, which avoided a second straight upset loss in the league title game.

“I just told myself I don’t want to come off the floor crying no more,” Holmes said. “I told my teammates, ‘I ain’t crying.’”

The Bears held the top seed last year but were knocked off by seventh-seeded Coppin State, so the school’s first postseason appearance as a Division I member came in the NIT _ not the NCAAs.

“I’ve been telling them, ‘Fellas, just hold on,’” Bozeman said. “Fourteen days ago, I said, ‘Guys, listen. Whatever’s going on in your life right now, please put it aside and focus for 14 days, and let’s finish this out.’”

To further motivate the Bears, Bozeman showed them the rings he picked up for leading Cal into the big tournament three times, before he resigned in 1996 amid an NCAA investigation.

“I always wanted to say this. Jay-Z came, ‘What you want me to do? I’m sorry. I’m back,’” Bozeman said, laughing as he quoted from the rap star’s “Show Me What You Got.”

Later, he turned serious as he explained how he felt the messy departure from Berkeley let down his late father.

“I really wanted to get back into coaching so I could make it right,” he said. “That’s why I tell these guys that you don’t want any regrets, and you want to try to do what you can do now and do it right, because you don’t want any regrets.”

From the opening minutes of this one, Bozeman and his team made it clear that they would settle for nothing short of making the field of 65.

Morgan State took the lead for good with a dominating 4-minute stretch in which it scored at will, while turning an early eight-point deficit into a 10-point lead while hitting four 3-pointers.

“We weren’t nervous. I think we were overexcited,” Lyons said. “We came out strong, then fell off a little bit.”

Holmes swished a stepback 3, and Bolden knocked down a 3 in transition over Deloach seconds later to give the Bears their first double-figure lead, 20-10, with 9 minutes before the break.

Holmes _ the tournament’s most outstanding player _ finished just 5-of-17 from the field and 3-of-10 from 3-point range, but reached double figures for 21st time in 22 games.

Lyons added 14 points for Norfolk State.

For a while, though, both teams seemed better off shooting from long range than close range. At one point midway through the half, the teams combined to make 1-of-14 shots from inside the arc _ and 4-of-5 from behind it.

“We weren’t being patient, and we weren’t playing our game,” Bozeman said. “We said we wanted to come in and play our game, and our game is, we control the tempo and we run when we have an opportunity, but we like to take our time in the half court, take good shots and dictate tempo as much as possible. … We know that we can defend, and we know that we can score _ especially when we’re patient.”

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