The dunk counter keeps Delaware State basketball fans in the game. Whenever a Hornets player slams one home, a cheerleader heads to a poster and changes the seasonal count.
Heading into last night's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference showdown with Coppin State, the number stood at 34 for the season. It did not change, as the Eagles denied Delaware State access to the basket and muscled their way to a 76-66 victory.
It was a ragged, rugged win for the defending MEAC champions, who limited the Hornets to 38.0 percent shooting and defended to the end. The game was suspended with 18 seconds remaining when a fight in the stands behind Coppin State's bench spilled onto the court, and in the midst of the altercation, junior point guard Larry Yarbray picked up a chair to protect himself just in case.
"We weren't going to let them get anything for free," said Larry Stewart, the senior forward who had 25 points and 20 rebounds. "You don't see a whole lot of teams shooting well against us."
Coppin State (11-8) won its seventh straight by allowing Delaware State (12-6) no field goals for an eight-minute stretch of the first half and a five-minute span in the second. The Hornets were averaging an even 90 points, and came in shooting 48.8 percent. They dropped to 5-2 in the MEAC, a game and a half behind Coppin State (7-1).
Stewart said it was the Eagles' biggest win of the season, but in one way it was business as usual. When Coppin State went to the NCAA tournament last year, it limited opponents to 40.8 percent shooting. Last night's effort lowered the seasonal mark to 41.4, and coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell thinks it's only going to get better as the Eagles master their man-to-man defense.
For most of Mitchell's first four seasons, Coppin State was a zone team.
"For years people thought we couldn't play man defense," Mitchell said. "That's the seventh game in a row we've played predominantly man, and that suits our personnel better. It's a must against a team like Delaware State that has some guys who can shoot from NBA three-point range."
The real challenge last night came inside, where the Hornets' Tom Davis, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior, came in averaging 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds. He was rationed to 14 and 11 by a
committee of Eagles, as 270-pound Larry McCollum leaned on him for 26 minutes, and Darren Woods, Joe Hammond and Marcus Hammond all took turns.
"They run 80 percent of their plays to Davis," McCollum said. "Myself and [coach Derek] Brown looked at films yesterday [Monday] and saw some things we could key on."
Delaware State was just as feeble at the free throw line, where it made only 13 of 29 attempts. Davis was harried there too, going 2-for-10.
Coppin State, which itself came out tight before five NBA scouts and shot only 42.8 percent, got 17 points from Reggie Isaac and 14 from freshman forward James Mazyck.
As is usually the case, Stewart was the most productive, as he made 10 of his 15 shots and led the Eagles to a 54-37 bulge in rebounds. Stewart scored 10 of his 25 in a span of less than two minutes midway through the second half that allowed the Eagles to go on a 12-2 run and break away from a 52-52 tie.