Defending champ Coppin opens with 92-67 victory

March 01, 1991|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondent

NORFOLK, Va. -- It wasn't the crisp performance that might be expected of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season champions, but even when they're not at their best, the Coppin State Eagles have a way of making winning look easy.

While bottom-seed Bethune-Cookman played Coppin tight for the better part of a half, in the end the Eagles ran away with a 92-67 win, advancing them into tonight's semifinal against Florida A&M.

Larry Stewart, MEAC Player of the Year, scored 27 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Reggie Isaac added 26 to lead Coppin (19-9), which shot 38.9 percent in a lethargic first half.

"They came out with little intensity, and maybe it's because we hadn't played in a while," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "It wasn't a total 40-minute game but this is the time of the year when we take them and look forward to the next day.

" But Mitchell realizes it will take a better effort if the Eagles are to win tonight against Florida A&M. The fifth-seeded Rattlers (15-13) played inspired and emotional basketball in their 87-77 win over fourth-seeded North Carolina A&T.

Bethune-Cookman (5-24) had a 22-17 lead 15 minutes into the game, but the Eagles ran off 10 straight points -- the last three by Stewart on a layup and ensuing free throw -- that gave the Eagles a 27-22 lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds left. After Reggie Cunningham broke the run with a jumper to bring the Wildcats to within 27-24, the Eagles closed the half with a 12-6 run for a 39-30 halftime lead.

Stewart had 18 of Coppin's first 27 points, which helped offset a slow start by Isaac, who missed his first eight shots from the field.

"I knew we were sluggish, but I felt we had an advantage inside and I wanted to take control," Stewart said. "After a while, we picked it up. We knew there were some upsets earlier, and we didn't want that to happen to us."

After the Wildcats scored the first basket to start the second half, Coppin went on an 11-0 run -- seven points by Isaac -- to take a 50-32 lead. After the 0-for-8 start, Isaac hit 10 of his last 16 field-goal attempts and scored 15 second-half points.

James Mazyck added 17 points for the Eagles, who shot 57.1 percent in the second half. Tonight's game will be the Eagles' third of the season against Florida A&M -- Coppin won, 78-64, at the Coppin Center on Jan. 19 and 81-71 in Tallahassee on Feb. 9.

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