For those fans expecting the usually close game between Coppin State and Florida A&M last night, the Eagles' Larry Stewart ruined their evening.
It was Stewart's 37 points and 21 rebounds -- both career highs -- that helped take the bite out of the Rattlers in Coppin's 78-64 win before a crowd of 1,100 at the Coppin Center.
Reggie Isaac added 25 points for the Eagles. Kelvin Daniels had 19 for the losers.
Coppin's two wins over Florida A&M last season were both by a point -- including an 86-85 double-overtime win in Tallahassee. But even though the Rattlers got to within five points twice in the second half, this game was never as close as previous contests between the two teams.
"Coppin-A&M is usually the game that goes into double overtime with wild finishes," Stewart said. "They lost their top player from last year, and we're glad he's gone."
The way Stewart played, it might not have made a difference who Florida A&M had. The 6-foot-8 forward hit key points, including 19 in the second half, that helped crush a late Rattlers rally.
Playing against a team that had lost to previously winless Morgan State on Thursday, Coppin (7-8, 3-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) jumped out to a 25-14 lead with Stewart scoring 10 of those points and Isaac adding 11.
The Rattlers (5-8, 3-3) scored four straight on baskets by Kelvin Daniels and Reginald Finley to pull to within 25-18, but that was as close as they came the rest of the half. Stewart continued his dominant play, scoring six of Coppin's final 10 points that helped the Eagles take a 40-27 lead at halftime.
Coppin built its biggest lead, 44-27, after Larry McCollum hit a free throw and Isaac followed with a three-pointer in the opening minute of the second half.
The Eagles maintained that lead throughout the half and were up, 63-54, when Stewart sat down for a breather with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left. The Rattlers then went on a 6-2 stretch to get to within 65-60.
When Stewart returned, he immediately hit two free throws and the Rattlers didn't threaten again. He ended a game with a three-pointer from the top of the key -- the first of his three-year career.
"I just saw three seconds on the clock and I just let go," said a laughing Stewart. It was his third three-point attempt in his career. "I always shoot it in practice, so I said, 'What the heck.' "
After losing their conference opener at South Carolina State, the Eagles have now won three straight MEAC games and are second behind Delaware State. Even though the Eagles' overall record is below .500, the team is starting to click as a unit.
"We wanted to stay in the conference race, and we had to beat a good team like Florida A&M," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said.