One minute, Morgan State is finishing off a routine Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball victory at S.C. State. A disputed second later, the friendly town of Orangeburg is ground zero for one of the most controversial stories of the college basketball season.
Too bad the administrators evidently got this one wrong, smudging both schools and forcing apparently falsely accused Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman to explain himself.
Over and over.
Again, too many suits in the athletic department kitchen.
"The way this thing has blown up has really surprised me," said Thomas Grant Jr. of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, the only reporter on the scene Saturday at the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center. "I didn't even think that much of it at the time."
S.C. State president George Cooper accused Bozeman of striking Larry Bastfield as the senior point guard came off the court and into the Morgan State bench area. Some "eyewitnesses" posting accounts online said Bozeman punched Bastfield.
Never mind that Bastfield said nothing happened and Bozeman right after the game blamed the misunderstanding on Bastfield's theatrical reaction to slight contact.
"I didn't really hit him," Bozeman told Grant. "I just touched him in the chest. That's Larry. If you know Larry, you know that's what he does. It wasn't as bad as how it appeared."
Cooper confronted Bozeman after the game and told him he planned to report the incident to MEAC and Morgan State officials.
Reaction was swift in Baltimore: Morgan State athletic director Floyd Kerr suspended Bozeman on Monday and ordered him to fly home from Savannah, where the Bears lost Monday night to Savannah State.
Now Bozeman's attorney wants a tape of the incident. He says Morgan State has violated Bozeman's contract by suspending him without opportunity to appeal.
If only someone had placed a call to a veteran reporter.
No harm, no foul
"The way I saw it, Bastfield was trying to dribble out the clock and Bozeman wanted him to run a play," Grant said Thursday. "That made Bozeman a little mad, and when Bastfield came to the bench, Bozeman reached out and made a pushing motion toward him. It was not like a punch, but maybe it acted like a punch when, basically, he was holding him back. But then it became like the Kennedy assassination, with 1,000 different versions of what happened."
There was frustration throughout the building.
Morgan State's winning extended the longest losing streak in S.C. State basketball history to nine games (stretched to 10 with a Monday night loss to Coppin State).
Grant seems sure there was no harm done to Bastfield.
"Just by his reaction, you could tell," Grant said. "Bozeman does have a temper, but I've seen worse. The kid stayed in the game and wasn't at all upset. There was no tension between Bozeman and Bastfield after the game."
Emotion, and baggage
Grant in his Times and Democrat game report included details of the incident, but only in notes at the bottom of the story.
There are characters and character issues here.
Bozeman, 48, won fame in 1993. His California Golden Bears upset Duke and he became the youngest coach (29) to reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. His Cal players included NBA star Jason Kidd and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
But Bozeman got into trouble inside and outside the Cal program, had an NCAA "show-cause" order slapped on his resume and meandered to Morgan State. No wonder he's sensitive to disciplinary action.
Kerr, by the way, is no basketball neophyte. He played at Colorado State, was drafted by the Phoenix Suns (and Dallas Cowboys) and has been a member of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Cooper has been S.C. State's president since 2008.
Bozeman told ESPN's Andy Katz that he appeared Wednesday night before a committee of Morgan State administrators to give his side of the story.
"I love my players," Bozeman said. "I'm an emotional coach, but I don't get physical with my players in that way. I hug them, I kiss them on the forehead."
Next time, just don't get too emotional in Orangeburg.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter at @sapakoff.