NORFOLK, Va. -- Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell was smiling after his team's 74-70 loss to Florida A&M in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference semifinals, but his words told a different story.
"You're supposed to be graceful in defeat, and they played well," Mitchell said, his eyes shooting upward. "But it's just a shame the game had to be focused on a call."
The call Mitchell referred to was an over-the-back foul on Larry Stewart on what appeared to be an offensive rebound with the scored tied at 66 with 1 minute, 37 seconds left. Florida A&M's Kelvin Daniels hit two ensuing free throws, and the fifth-seeded Rattlers (16-13) outscored the Eagles, 8-4, down the stretch for the win. "I expect it. In the MEAC, I expect anything," Mitchell said.
The call was big in that Stewart was in scoring position after the offensive rebound and on the verge of bringing Coppin back from a 20-point deficit to take its first lead going back to the game's opening minutes. Instead Coppin, who attempted 10 fewer free throws then Florida A&M, failed in their attempt to repeat as MEAC tournament champions.
"What over the back, you mean the one he was going to lay-in," Mitchell said. "In the MEAC, our officials dictate what happens and who wins or loses. The referees are paid to call what they see, but sometimes they need glasses."
The call -- a seemingly bad one -- was crucial, but the Eagles did struggle from the outset. Coppin shot just 34.5 percent from the field in the first half as they fell behind by 20, and ended up shooting 40.4 percent for the game.
But Coppin did put on a surge at the end of the first half in scoring the final 12 points to pull to within 42-34. But Coppin was never able to get over the hump in the second half until the big call by the officials.
"They just won the game. They played way over their heads at the beginning and got the big lead," Mitchell said. "My guys came back from 20 down so what else could you say. I can't say we weren't focused. We just ran into a hot team."
The Rattlers were considered the team of the future going into the tournament with just one senior starter, but they defeated fourth-seeded North Carolina A & T on Thursday and came out very aggressive against Coppin early. Reggie Isaac, a 24.1 point per game scorer for the Eagles, was 0-7 from the field in the first half as he scored just four points.
The Rattlers increased their lead to 44-34 at the start of the second half, but six straight points pulled the Eagles to within 44-40. But an 8-2 Florida A & M run increased the lead to 52-42.
The lead never went above 10, and when Stewart (19 points) was fouled after a soaring dunk and hit the ensuing free throw the Eagles were within 61-60 with 6:40 left. But Florida A & M scored five straight to increase the lead to 66- 60.
Boosted by their defensive pressure, Coppin scored six straight and tied the game at 66.
The Scope, Norfolk, Va.) Thursday's results Florida A&M 87, N.C. A&T 77
Delaware State 95, Howard 93
Morgan State 73, S. Carolina State 72
Coppin State 92, Beth.-Cookman 67
Yesterday's results Delaware State 93, Morgan State 78
Florida A&M 74, Coppin State 70
Delaware State vs. Florida A&M, 7:30 (ESPN)