The best-case scenario for Coppin State basketball this winter was a shift from power forward to small forward for Larry Stewart. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior emerged as an NBA prospect last year, and coach Fang Mitchell wanted to let scouts see what Stewart could do farther from the basket.
The grand experiment lasted all of one game. Injuries elsewhere had something to do with it, but the overriding factor was less complex: Stewart is just too effective inside, pounding the boards, blocking shots and powering his way past defenders. He's Coppin State's anchor near both baskets.
Morgan State learned that lesson again last night at the Coppin Center, where the Eagles posted their 20th straight homecourt victory with an 85-58 rout before 2,800 fans. Reggie Isaac had a game-high 32 points, but Stewart set the tone early and collected 28 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
There's more. Coppin State played in-your-face man defense for three-fourths of the game, and Stewart didn't allow Morgan State's leading scorer, sophomore Glenn Smith, a single basket.
"I felt I played good defense, but I didn't know I shut him down," Stewart said with a shrug.
Mitchell has expected and usually received a similar performance from Stewart every game for the last three seasons, and even Stewart seems to take his numbers for granted. He is averaging 22.5 points on 61.3 percent shooting and 13.4 rebounds, and will challenge for an NCAA statistical championship in the latter category.
With Walt Williams injured, Stewart would get some votes as the state's best collegiate player.
He is the front-runner to repeat as the Player of the Year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and anyone who wants to downgrade the level of competition there is referred to Stewart's 26 points and 21 rebounds at New Mexico State, the 24-10 line at Oklahoma and the 16-12 against Clemson's Dale Davis . . . or the 18-14 in last year's win over Maryland.
"One of the reasons I made that schedule was to get those two [Stewart and Isaac] exposure," Mitchell said. "They've given so much to the program, I wanted them to be seen.
"I'm not one to praise too many people, but Larry Stewart? He definitely gets mention from me. He just keeps getting better."
The 76ers had a scout at the Coppin Center last night. It was the Los Angeles Clippers last week. Houston, Indiana and Charlotte also have filed reports on Stewart and Isaac.
Both grew up in Philadelphia, and Stewart was wearing a 76ers cap last night. A pro career was in the back of his mind when he came to Coppin State, but that was only two years after he first tried organized basketball.
Stewart didn't play until he was a junior at Dobbins Tech, a year after the stars were Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. The headliner his senior year was Doug Overton, now at La Salle. He sat out his freshman year at Coppin State because of Proposition 48, but his three-year numbers are impressive nonetheless.
In 78 games at Coppin State, Stewart has 1,490 points -- second in the Eagles' Division I history to Isaac's 1,648 -- and a school-record 876 rebounds. His career field goal percentage is 64.2, and he passed current teammate Larry McCollum in the blocked shots (129) department last night.
His immediate goals are to beat Howard in Washington, D.C., tomorrow (8 p.m.) and Delaware State in Dover next Tuesday, and thus move into first place in the MEAC. Long-range plans include his 1,000th career rebound and a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Coppin State is 5-1 in the MEAC and 9-8 overall after its fifth straight win.
Following its first two wins of the season, Morgan State dropped to 2-15 overall, 2-5 in the MEAC. Senior center Marcus Sheffield came off the bench to gather 16 points and six rebounds for the Golden Bears, who are at Maryland-Eastern Shore tomorrow.