Coppin State's now-we've-got-em, now-we-don't, 83-68 victory over Morgan State last night had more angles than a spaghetti western.
Which probably suited Reggie Isaac just fine. The Coppin sharpshooter was getting treatment for a nasty gash under his left eye when he tried to explain why it took the Eagles so long to put away a team it had already beaten by 27 points earlier this season. "Everybody's out to beat us," he said. "Everywhere we go, it's going to be a tough place to play."
Call it the top gun angle.
There was also the last-line-of-defense angle. That one belonged to coach Fang Mitchell, who was still sweating 20 minutes after Coppin's ninth straight win. Mitchell watched an 18-point first-half lead dissipate into a 48-48 second-half tie before the Eagles (13-8, 9-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) pulled away from the Golden Bears at Hill Field House.
"Morgan had nothing to lose and came to play 40 minutes," Mitchell said. "We didn't play 40 minutes. When that happens, you can be tied. But the key is, in order to get the lead back, we played the type of defense we're capable of playing."
And then there was the we're-best-buddies angle, as presented by Larry McCollum. "Everybody's friends on these two teams," Coppin's 6-foot-9, 270-pound behemoth said. "We hang out with each other. It's more than a game. It's like playing against your brother. And these games become fun."
That's easy for McCollum to say. He packed 14 of his season-high 20 points into the second half. He weathered the storm that Morgan threw at him, and dodged the peanut M&M's that Morgan's fans heaved on the court. Did he eat any of the M&Ms? "I was tempted," he said, perhaps only half-kidding.
It was anything but fun for Morgan coach Michael Holmes, who scolded the crowd of 4,459 on the public address system for abusive behavior. Then he scolded his players for not finishing off a valiant comeback bid.
"We gave it away," Holmes said. "We played bad early, we played bad at the end. To be in it in the middle . . . we must have given it away. We don't have that much mental toughness."
Morgan (4-17, 4-6) had enough to get back in the game when it was seemingly lost early. Down 33-15 in the first half, the Bears went on a 20-8 run to close within 41-35. A 13-7 spurt at the start of the second half produced the 48-all tie.
And then, after Coppin lost the ball out of bounds and Morgan had a chance for the lead, the Eagles went back to work. On defense.
Isaac (20 points) stole the ball from Morgan's James McCoy and cashed in a layup, breaking the tie. McCollum sank one of two free throws: 51-48. Morgan's Raylon Adams sank two: 51-50. Coppin's Larry Stewart (22 points, 13 rebounds) hit a follow shot, was fouled, and converted his three-point play: 54-50. After a Morgan turnover, McCollum put in a layup: 56-50. It was over in short order. Having forged a 48-48 tie, Morgan went three minutes without a field goal and fell behind 62-52. The difference, Isaac said, was Coppin's pressing defense.
"They were handling it for a while, but the pressure started to get to them," he said.
Holmes, Morgan's first-year coach, was thinking about a different kind of pressure, though. He's still looking for a leader on his inexperienced squad. "Someone who, when the chips are down, can handle the pressure and get the job done," he said.
Glenn Smith of Baltimore's City College High, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the first half, looked like a prime candidate.
"I'm working on him," Holmes said.
That, of course, was another angle.