Morgan’s First Win Not Enough

By Rick Maese
Updated: January 31, 2006

BALTIMORE — They flooded the court at Hill Field House and bounced together in a group hug that stretched from one corner of the gym to the other. The music kept playing as they danced their way outside, gathering in the lobby to send text messages.

“We finally won. 1-18!!!”

Morgan State was the last winless team in the nation. The Bears’ 0-18 record officially made them No. 334 in Division I before Monday night. Being a Bear has been nearly impossible these past two months. In class, all you hear is some version of the same thing: What are you guys now, 0-and-100?

“This losing, it’s been on my mind all the time,” says Joseph McLean, a junior guard. “You just walk around and you’re thinking the same stuff over and over: ‘Do I really want to do this? Why am I even out here?’” Monday night, he says he was reminded. When it was all over – when Morgan State had managed an exciting 79-75 come-from-behind win over Howard – McLean tore off his jersey and waved it over his head, chest-bumping every fan within 10 feet of him.

The celebration was something usually reserved for March. The Bears, of course, aren’t talking about the NCAA tournament. With a 1-18 record, they’re grateful they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from attending practice tomorrow.

To give you an idea of how rough it’s been at Morgan State this season, you need only take a peek at its roster. It’s a lineup that requires real-time updates because it’s changing constantly.

Five players from the opening-day roster are already gone: a mix of academic casualties and team dismissals. Morgan State has suited up for some games with just six players.

By now, though, the Bears have added five others, including two in the past week. I don’t know exactly where you find walk-ons in the middle of the season, but Monday night, I could swear I saw a couple of guys go straight from the concession stand to the Morgan State bench.

Understandably, you don’t unearth blue-chippers in January. You get a 5-foot-6 point guard and a 5-11 shooting guard. You want an idea of how bad it’s been? Demetrius Branch, the undersized guard, has only practiced with the Bears three times. He still played 15 minutes last night.

“Sometimes you get what you can find,” said Bears coach Butch Beard.

Senior Tyree Spinner is one of five walk-ons. He played on the offensive line last fall for the Bears. Now he’s in the paint for the basketball team. He started the past two games and led Morgan State last night with 21 points.

It’d be nice if we could say that Morgan State is just a couple of pieces away. If only they had a scorer. If only they had a point guard. If only they had a stronger inside presence. There are just too many if-onlys right now.

What they need are answers. If only someone could figure out what the problem is at Morgan State. It’s a good school with a good arena in a good city. Yet the losing is so prevalent right now that Morgan State fans and officials ought to be losing patience.

Before Win No. 1, opponents were dropping the Bears by an average of 28 points per game. Eight of their losses had been by 30 or more. The season-opener was a 67-point trouncing by Washington.

Morgan State, a respectable program 30 years ago, hasn’t posted a winning record since the 1988-89 season. And this year they were set up for failure from the start, outmatched by a relentless schedule.

Beard had taken off his tie and leaned against a wall in the bowels off the Hill Field House Monday night. A 1-18 record is nothing to brag about, but a part of him had to know that Howard was the best chance for a win. The Bison were 2-15 and have now lost 10 straight.

“These were cards that we were dealt,” he said. “Now no one ever said life was fair. Never has been. Never will be. Our players have learned that.”

The Bears lost their top six scorers from last season. The top returner was McLean, who averaged four points a game last year.

Monday night, he scored the Bears’ final seven points, almost single-handedly breaking the losing streak in the final minute against Howard.

“I’ve never felt like this after a game before,” he said. “I can’t even explain to you how it feels right now.”

That first win of the season always tastes special. It can come in November or January, it doesn’t matter. In the moment, there’s no perspective. The slightest break in the clouds is reason for celebration.

Unfortunately, a win doesn’t always equate to answers. And right now, Morgan State needs those more than wins.