The South Carolina State men's basketball team didn't enjoy riding a 5-game losing skid and didn't want to disappoint the nearly 700 fans who attended Saturday's home game against Morgan State for Coming Home 2019 festivities.
So, despite trailing by 12 points in the contest against the Bears, the Bulldogs found a late gear to post a 16-3 scoring run in the final 5 minutes of play to take an 85-81 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference win inside Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center in front of an announced crowd of 690.
Damani Applewhite scored a game-high 21 points, including a 7-for-8 performance at the free throw line, to lead S.C. State (5-20 overall record, 3-6 in MEAC) to victory.
It helped that the home team was in the double bonus for the final 3:49, thanks to some earlier aggressive play, and made 5 of 6 free throws in that late span.
"Whoever was on the court finished strong; we went with our leadership group," said a pleased Murray Garvin, the Bulldogs' head coach. "Ian Kinard played really big for us down the stretch defensively and finished (with 12 seconds left) with that big layup.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guys tonight, to win with all of the alumns here and the Coming Home celebration. It leaves our alumns with a sense of pride. That locker room (postgame) was about as happy as I've seen it in a month."
Kinard's bucket in the final seconds was the only two points he scored, but they gave the Bulldogs a 2-possession lead just before Janai Raynor-Powell stole the ball at midcourt to seal the win.
Lavar Harewood added 19 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals for the Bulldogs, while Raynor-Powell added 15 points, 7 assists and a steal. Ozante Fields (Denmark-Olar product) added 8 points, 9 rebounds in just 18 minutes of playing time.
Due to injuries to two Bulldogs point guards, senior shooting guard Raynor-Powell is starting at point guard, and he had help from Applewhite getting the ball up the court at times on Saturday.
"We are doing it by committee, and I give credit to Lavar Harewood and Ozante Fields; both of those guys had the flu this week, and the persevered and gave all they had for us tonight," Garvin said. "Great team effort; what a night!"
Stanley Davis led the Bears (8-15 overall, 3-7 in MEAC) with 20 points, while Kyson Rawls added 19 points and Antonio Gillespie added 17 points.
The teams played somewhat even for most of the game, despite the Bears taking a small lead in the first half thanks to sudden full-court pressure defense creating some turnovers. Morgan State led 39-35 at the half. But each team finished with 17 turnovers, while each created a total of 5 steals for their offenses.
The Bulldogs finished the first half strong, after entering the final minute before the break down 9 points. Harewood made a steal and completed a 3-point play at the 44-second mark. After that, as time expired, Raynor-Powell dished to Applewhite for a dunk to leave the deficit at just 4 points entering the second half.
"We just made more plays down the stretch late than they did," Garvin said. "We fought back and this time we executed late and made our free throws to come away with the win.
"If we can have a crowd like this every home game, and have the pep band playing over there; it was as loud as it's been in here in a long time. I give credit to our athletic administration for putting this game on. You never can give up on the Bulldogs."
The Bulldogs play host to Coppin State on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in another MEAC contest. Prior to Saturday's home win, S.C. State was last victorious on January 14 in a 70-68 road win at Coppin State.
THE WAKANDA WAY
At the half, 2003 S.C. State graduate and former Bulldogs football player Travis Love spoke to the crowd.
Love is an actor and has had roles in the most-watched television series of all-time, AMC's "The Walking Dead," as well as the blockbuster movie of 2018, "Black Panther."
With the weekend's Coming Home 2019 festivities set around the Black Panther movie and its Wakanda Way theme, Love spoke of the thanks he has for those at S.C. State who helped prepare him for his adult life and unforeseen opportunities in Hollywood.
"I had no idea what the future held for me," Love told the S.C. State fans and alumni in attendance. "I came here wondering if I was good enough and if I had what it takes to succeed.
"What I did not realize at the time was that SCSU was preparing me every step along the way for what I was to become. Every ounce of my interaction here at South Carolina State - athletically, academically and socially - prepared me for what I am doing today. For that, I am truly grateful."