Maryland Eastern Shore tops Morgan State in MEAC opener

Photo courtesy Joey Gardner/Maryland Eastern Shore Athletics

BALTIMORE, Maryland — Maryland Eastern Shore senior point guard Ciani Byrom (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) scored five straight points in the final two minutes to bust up a 65-65 tie and give the Hawks a five-point lead with 29 seconds remaining at Morgan State on Saturday, Jan. 5. Byrom’s teammate Ra’Jean Martin (Jacksonville, Florida) nailed both her free throws with six seconds remaining to ice the 73-68 victory for the Hawks.

“That’s league play,” head coach Batchelor said. “There is not going to be one easy victory in this league and I think that we are going to be the type of team that all of them are going to be rough because we don’t seem to separate and stay separated. But the fact that we were able to find a way — I thought our best player stepped up and made the plays we needed most and the effort on the defensive end was huge.”

Maryland Eastern Shore (5-9, 1-0 MEAC) had five players in double digits in scoring including Byrom and Martin while Bairesha Gill-Miles (Lexington, Kentucky) finished with a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds).

Senior Keyera Eaton (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) reached double digits for the sixth straight game with 15 points and six boards, but the surprise of the night was the career-high 16 points in 14 minutes off the bench for freshman Brooklyn Bailey (Rock Hill, South Carolina), who also chipped in four rebounds.

“Nothing is bigger than the 16 that came off the bench from a freshman, who hadn’t been playing well at all lately,” Batchelor said. “The other day she didn’t see the floor and today accepting that and coming in today when called up on and stepping up shows us she is who we thought she is. The freshman just has to get through some things and the future looks bright with her.”

With The Shore down 25-18 and struggling to find offense with nine minutes left in the half, Bailey made her first appearance. Over the next nine minutes, she was 4-for-4 from the field including a pair of three-pointers, pulled down three rebounds and most importantly didn’t turn the ball over.

“That was amazing,” Byrom said. “She played great today. I really think that she is a great player as a freshman and she’s mature. I think she is going to excel for years to come. But really with our team — the thing I like about it is that you never know. Last game AJ had 16. This time it was Brooklyn. We are not a one-dimensional team where we depend on someone all the time.”

The Hawks were without junior Adrienne Jones (Baltimore, Maryland) and sophomore Angelique Taylor (Wachapreague, Virginia), so Batchelor was looking for someone to step up.

“Not having AJ tonight hurt us because of the style of play,” Batchelor said. “Certain teams kind of present a challenge for you and I thought being a Baltimore kid, this is her style of play and I think she would have helped us a lot. But not having her Brooklyn stepping up was huge.”

The Hawks struggled from the free throw line going just 13-of-24 including 7-of-14 in the fourth quarter. But they shot 45 percent from the field (25-of-56) and 63 percent from behind the arc (10-of-16).

“Coach talks about spending more time in the gym days before a game will make all the difference,” Byrom said. “We actually spent a lot of time in the gym. Yesterday, I saw the whole team in the gym after practice putting up shots and I thought that really made a big difference in today’s game.”

Eastern Shore got out to an early 13-5 lead to start the game, but the Bears clawed their way back. Morgan (2-13, 0-1 MEAC) went on a 12-0 run to take a 17-13 lead with just over a minute left in the first quarter.

By the half, the Hawks led again 37-32. And while The Shore maintained the lead for the entire third quarter it ebbed and flowed to as few as two points and never more than eight. With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Maryland Eastern Shore had pushed the lead to 61-50 — the 11 being their biggest advantage of the game. Morgan State, however, wasn’t done. The Bears chipped away until they knotted the score at 65-65 with 2:37 left.

“I was just thinking we needed to keep our heads and stay level-headed,” Byrom said. “A lot of what we do is overthink and we try to win the game in one possession. Coach tries to get us to stay level-headed, so when it gets to down the stretch we just have to keep the same mentality.”

Martin missed a pair from the line moments later, but a 3-pointer by Morgan Ashia McCalla rattled out and Eaton grabbed the rebound. Byrom scored on a pretty drive and scoop with 1:42 to go. After the Bears came up empty on two attempts at the offensive end, Eaton blocked the third and senior Dominique Walker (Bel Air, Maryland) gathered the ball.

Then on the offensive end, Byrom found herself with the ball on the left wing in front of the Hawks bench with time running out on the shots clock. She launched a 3-pointer with a defender in her faced falling away and banked it in for the 70-65 lead with 29 ticks left.

Morgan made a long three and Gill-Miles converted one of two at the line to make it 71-68. The Hawks got a defensive stop and the rebound before Martin was fouled and converted both to give the Hawks a five-point lead with six seconds left.

“It wasn’t a rush to take the lead it was like a slow grind,” Batchelor said. “They hit shots and they made plays and I take my hat off to them for making it a tough competition. But I just go with my kids and thank God that I‘ve got Cici Byrom on my side.”

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