13 days later, Coppin back at it NIT berth provides shot at redemption NIT TOURNAMENT

March 14, 1991|By Mike Preston

The last time Coppin State played a basketball game, Eagles guard Reggie Isaac was five of 19 from the field, center Larry McCollum played only nine minutes before fouling out and point guard Larry Yarbray left his best passes on the bus.

The result: Florida A&M 74, Coppin 70 in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference semifinal. Goodbye, bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament.

"We really didn't want it to end that way," said Larry Stewart, Coppin's senior forward. "We really didn't."

Tonight, the Eagles (19-10) get another chance when they play Southwest Missouri State University (21-11) in Springfield, Mo., in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Redemption has been the focus of conversation for the Eagles this week.

"The players know it," said Coppin coach Fang Mitchell. "Redeem themselves, that's what the players want to do. Period. As for myself, any chance for me to win another ballgame makes me happy.

"Any chance to participate in postseason play also makes me happy. Remember, though, we're not here just to show up."

Southwest Missouri coach Charlie Spoonhour isn't expecting the Eagles to make a token appearance either. Spoonhour knows all about the MEAC. The Bears split in MEAC games this season, losing to North Carolina A&T, 55-52, but defeating Morgan State, 81-57.

The Bears played Coppin during the 1986-87 season, Mitchell's first at the university. The Bears won, 84-52, but Spoonhour isn't expecting another game like that one.

"He was just getting the program going then," Spoonhour said, "but it was evident from his previous record he would do well at Coppin. The fact that they won their league the past two years and reached the NCAA last year is a pretty good indication he has made his team one of the top clubs in that league.

"I've had enough experience with teams from the MEAC in the past couple of years to know what brand of basketball they play. I expect to have my hands full."

Coppin needs to play up to par, though, and that could be harder than it seems. Before last night, the Eagles had had only two full workouts in 10 days.

Mitchell scheduled another full workout for his team last night and said it would deal mostly with conditioning.

"The delay certainly didn't help us, because if we had been assured of a tournament, we definitely would have worked out," Mitchell said. "But if we can get our wind, we should be all right."

Mitchell said he isn't much concerned about playing in front of a partisan crowd at the Hammonds Center, which seats 8,858. He pointed out that the Eagles played on the road at Tulsa, New Mexico State, Texas-El Paso and Oklahoma.

"We lost, but we played well," Mitchell said. "That's the fun thing about this tournament. You win and go where they send you."

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