Hampton State forward Koron Reed, center, lifts a teammate as Hampton celebrates winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship tournament by defeating Morgan State 60-55 in an NCAA college basketball game during the Saturday, March 12, 2011 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Brandon Tunnell scored 20 points, including four free throws in the final 35 seconds, and Hampton secured its first NCAA tournament berth in five years with a 60-55 victory over Morgan State on Saturday in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game.
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The second-seeded Pirates (24-8) overcame poor shooting with stifling defense to hold off the fourth-seeded Bears (17-14), who had won the last two MEAC titles.
Darrion Pellum added 12 points for Hampton, which held Morgan State scoreless for more than 8½ minutes in the second half.
DeWayne Jackson had 25 points, including a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to get Morgan State within 57-55. But Tunnell hit two free throws on the next possession before Jackson missed a long 3 to end coach Todd Bozeman’s hopes of another NCAA appearance.
Hampton, best known for its stunning upset of Iowa State in 2001, is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since losing to Monmouth in the 2006 play-in game.
Shooting just 36 percent from the field, the Pirates secured their fifth straight win by holding Morgan State to 30 percent from the field to overcome a 44-30 disadvantage on the glass.
Stymied by a trapping zone defense, Morgan State missed 3-pointers, layups and mid-range jumpers in a drought that stretched for 8:35. Hampton’s 12-0 run forged a 46-37 lead with less than 8 minutes left.
Then it was Hampton’s turn to go cold. The Pirates managed one field goal over the next 6 minutes and Morgan State got within 48-47 with 3:35 to go.
Five straight free throws by Pellum and Tunnell’s driving layup gave Hampton some breathing room and ended Morgan State’s two-year dominance of the league under Bozeman.
Best known for his tumultuous 3½-year tenure at California in the 1990s that ended with him being dismissed and receiving an eight-year ban for major recruiting violations, Bozeman nearly engineered an impressive comeback.
A day after knocking off top-seeded Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State struggled to get in a rhythm early. The Bears missed their first six shots, committed three turnovers and saw point guard Larry Batsfield pick up two quick fouls in falling behind 7-0 and 10-2.
With the animated Bozeman stomping his feet, Morgan State rallied to take a 29-28 halftime lead thanks to their dominance on the boards. The lead would have been bigger in a poor shooting first half for both teams if Hampton’s Mike Tuitt wasn’t constantly beating different defenders off the dribble to collect 12 first-half free throw attempts.
But no other player ended up in double figures after Jackson, who shot 9 of 19 and grabbed six rebounds.