BALTIMORE, Md. – Morgan State’s Cliff Cornish sank a pair of free throws with 32.2 seconds left, capping a wild second half and lifting the Bears to a 73-70 win over the Norfolk State men’s basketball team on Saturday afternoon at Hill Field House.
For the second game in a row, the Spartans lost a halftime lead, and again the opposition went on a big run after intermission to pull ahead. Unlike Monday’s game against UMES, the Spartans this time were able to weather the storm. The Bears never led by more than five points after the Spartans were up by as much as 11 in the first half and 15 in the second.
Down by three, senior Jamel Fuentes got open for a layup with a minute and a half left, and then junior Jeff Short made 2-of-2 from the free throw line with 57.7 seconds on the clock. That gave the Spartans a one-point edge, 70-69. On MSU’s ensuing possession, Emmanuel Matey was unable to convert a driving layup, but Fuentes was called for a hold on the rebound attempt just as the Spartans got control of the ball.
With NSU’s possession now negated, Cornish calmly sank both shots from the charity stripe. The Spartans had plenty of time with the shot clock off, but Short’s driving layup with time running down was blocked. Blake Bozeman got the rebound, was fouled and hit 2-of-2 from the line with 2.5 seconds to go. NSU could not get a 3-point attempt off in time.
The loss dropped NSU to 16-11 overall and 9-3 in the MEAC. After Howard and Delaware State also won on Saturday, the Spartans still sit in second place in the league but just one game ahead of those two schools, both of whom NSU will play over the last four contests of the regular season.
The matchup with the Bears featured 65 free throw attempts and 49 fouls. The Spartans shot 30-of-39 from the charity stripe, with Short hitting 12-of-14 and junior D’Shon Taylor sinking 10-of-12. Short had his first career double-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Taylor had 15 points and six boards, although the duo combined to hit just 4-of-19 from the field and 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
The Spartans shot 18-of-50 overall for the game (36.0 percent), the second straight game being held under 40 percent.
The Bears (7-18, 5-6 MEAC), meanwhile, sank 14-of-28 in the second half, and Andrew Hampton was a big reason why. After playing just one minute in the first half without taking a shot, he shot 6-of-7 in the second, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, for 17 points. Cedric Blossom added 19 points, including 15 after halftime. They were the only two players to score in double figures for MSU.
The Bears shot 24-of-55 (43.6 percent) overall for the game as well as 19-of-26 from the charity stripe. They tallied 45 points in the second half after just 28 in the first.
NSU scored the first nine points of the second half thanks to Morgan State getting called for eight fouls within the first four minutes of play. The Spartans hit 5-of-6 from the line in the early going before play really began to pick up.
The Bears scored seven straight, including a trey from Hampton and a pair of buckets by Blossom. Hampton then sank two more 3-pointers, and a 3-point play by Matey cut the Spartan lead to just 52-46 at the 12:12 mark.
After cutting the Spartan lead to one, Morgan State jumped ahead thanks to two more 3-pointers by Hampton. The latter came with just 5:59 left. Cornish hit a layup on MSU’s next possession, stretching the lead to five and completing a 23-7 run that began more than seven minutes on the clock.
Short and senior Malik Thomas made six straight free throws over a minute-and-a-half span to cut the deficit to one. Blossom made 2-of-2 from the foul line before Fuentes’ basket began the closing stretch.
Fuentes was NSU’s most efficient shooting on the night as he finished with 10 points on 5-of-8 field goal attempts.
He scored the first six points of the game for the Spartans in what was a slow start for NSU. Senior LaTre’e Russell and Taylor each hit a pair from the foul line to put NSU in the lead, and Thomas extended it to 15-11 on a pick-and-pop 3-pointer from Short at 8:52.
NSU extended the advantage to 25-17 when Short made two free throws and hit a stop-and-pop 3-pointer in transition, the latter with just a little more than four minutes still to go in the first half. Freshman Devonte Banner later drained a trey from the left wing, one of just three buckets for NSU in the last eight and a half minutes of the contest.
Five times in the last five minutes of the stanza, the Spartans hit 2-of-2 from the charity stripe, as they finished 15-of-20 from the free throw line in the first half. Cedric Blossom’s three-point play with 53.7 seconds left cut the NSU lead to 34-28 heading into the break.
NSU’s 30-of-39 effort from the charity stripe marked the most since December 5, 2013, when the Spartans set the school record for both attempts (62) and makes (41). The 30 makes stand as the fourth-most in the Division I era.
NSU will return to Baltimore next Saturday to take on Coppin State at 4 p.m. at the Physical Education Complex.