Missed opportunities seal demise for top-seeded Morehouse

With the score tied at 86, the Florida Southern Mocs had an opportunity to steal a win at Forbes Arena with 11 seconds remaining in the game.

They failed to take advantage at that moment but so did the number-one seeded Morehouse Maroon Tigers, who squandered a second-half lead that, at one point, ballooned to 21 points.

The Mocs would win the game 98-97, advancing to the second of the 2018 NCAA Division II tournament and the Maroon Tigers magical season was over with a near capacity crowd—pro-Morehouse by every definition of the word—hardly believing what they had just seen. 

After the game, Morehouse head coach Grady Brewer said, “I put it all on me, I’m the head coach and it’s my fault when we don’t win and don’t execute.” Morehouse was 10-18 from the free-throw line during the game. It was less Brewer’s fault and more about the Maroon Tigers allowing Florida Southern to get to the line 32 times (28-32).

“We only gave up 35 points during the first half but defensively we just gave up too many points to win the ballgame.”

With Morehouse ahead 97-96 in overtime following a free-throw by senior Tyrius Walker, Florida Southern patiently made their way down the court with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game and reserve guard Tyler Smith converted a drive over the Maroon Tigers defense. Smith only took one shot during the first half and missed. He made the one that counted most in the end.

That left Morehouse with just enough time -4.7 seconds- to attempt what would have been a half-court heave. They would not even manage that as time ran out with the ball in Walker’s hands just across half court.

The opportunities to win this game and advance to the second round were there for Morehouse. With 7:58 remaining in the first half the Morehouse Maroon Tigers were losing 21-20 to the Florida Southern Mocs but oh what a late first-half run can make.

First, it was a drive between defenders, then it was a long jumper and finally a spin move by a defender down the left baseline that freed him enough for a bank shot over an outstretched hand. Walker scored six of the Maroon Tigers last eight points of the first half resulting in a 46-35 advantage, their largest lead of the first half.

A 26-15 surge would put the home team and number one overall seed in the tournament’s South Region in front for good. Morehouse would not trail again for the remainder of the game until Florida Southern took an 89-88 lead early in overtime.

Morehouse would extend the lead to 18 points early in the second half after Walker scored his 16th point of the game on another drive through the Mocs defense and a three-point play from junior forward Omar Alston.

All season long, head coach Grady Brewer utilized the depth and experienced of his bench and Saturday night was no different. Seniors Jordan Wallace and Duby Maduegbunam both scored early and often during the second half. Wallace connected on consecutive three-point attempts to put Morehouse ahead 62-41. The 21-point lead would be the Maroon Tigers largest of the game.

Again, an opportunity to put the game away for good would be wasted and the Maroon Tigers would only be up by 14 points at the 10:27 mark. Junior James Walker, an Atlanta native, (who scored a team-high 10 first-half points) would make three consecutive three-pointers to put Morehouse ahead 73-56.

Florida Southern is in the NCAA tournament for a reason and wouldn’t away, pulling together a 6-0 run and sticking with the Maroon Tigers throughout.

Mocs point guard Brett Hanson kept his team in the game with his playmaking while backcourt mate Jonathan Lawton and forward Ja’Kwan Jones added scoring touch from perimeter and post. The Mocs would pull within 8, 76-68, with less than 4 minutes. They would get six points on consecutive three-pointers by Lawton to tie the game at 86 before regulation.

A junior from New Jersey by way of prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, Lawton never took his foot off the gas and dominated the final minutes of regulation and overtime as he scored eight of his teams 12 points in overtime. lawton would finish with a game-high 28 points. 

James Walker led the Maroon Tigers in scoring with 26 points with Tyrius Walker adding 21 points and Wallace contributing 15 points in the loss. The Maroon Tigers close the season with an overall record of 25-3 (12-2 at home).   The Florida Southern Mocs, now 22-10, are the ones that are moving on, however, after taking full advantage of their opportunity to win.

The Morehouse College Maroon Tigers and senior Tyrius Walker (above) came into the tournament as the number one overall seed in South Region with the opportunity to play the first two games of the tournament on their home court at Forbes Arena. They would leave it a 98-97 loser. Photo credit: Itoro Umonteun

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