In his team's 85-70 win over South Carolina State that clinched the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title, Coppin State forward Larry Stewart proved why he is the best big man in the league.
Stewart, a 6-foot-8 forward, scored a a career-high 40 points -- a school Division I record -- as the Eagles (17-8, 13-1) broke open a close game as they won for the 13th straight time and the 23rd straight time at the Coppin Center.
In beating the Bulldogs (11-13, 8-5), the Eagles avenged their only conference loss of the season and the guaranteed them the top seed in the conference tournament, which starts at the end of the month.
The Eagles had a 51-49 lead with 11 minutes left when the game developed into a battle between Stewart and South Carolina State's Travis Williams. The Bulldogs' 6-6 senior forward scored 19 points in the last 11 minutes, but Stewart's 15 points and clutch rebounding during that span helped the Eagles to the victory.
"Stewart's one of the best players to ever play in the MEAC," said South Carolina State coach Cy Alexander, a head coach for four years and an assistant for 11 in the league. "He's a great offensive rebounder, is very unselfish and just has a great feel for the game."
The win came on a night when Coppin coach Fang Mitchell was in the hospital after an operation Wednesday to remove a tumor from his neck. He will return for the next game, at North Carolina A&T.
With assistant Derek Brown at the helm, the Eagles had to adjust to South Carolina State's slowdown offense. Point guard Curtis Faust (18 points) was the key early as he helped the Bulldogs stay within 38-33 at the half.
The Bulldogs were down, 55-54, when Coppin made its final run. With Stewart in charge, the Eagles outscored South Carolina State, 30-16, the rest of the way.
"It felt good to play that way in my final game here," said Stewart, who grabbed 17 rebounds -- 10 on the offensive end. "Playing against a guy like [Williams] only makes me play harder."
Williams scored 31 points -- 23 in the second half, and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Bulldogs.
Coppin got 16 points from guard Reggie Isaac, who played just 27 minutes after getting into foul trouble early in the game.
The Eagles trailed the Bulldogs, 7-2, early, then went on a on a 9-4 run -- five of the points by Faust -- to tie the game at 11.
Coppin later built a 15-11 lead after a Larry McCollum (eight points, three steals) jumper, but a 10-4 run by South Carolina State gave it a 21-19 lead with 8:20 left in the half.
Stewart then scored nine of his 18 first-half points during a 19-12 run the rest of the way as the Eagles took their 38-33 halftime lead.