Stewart Coppin era ends quietly

March 15, 1991|By Lyndal Scranton | Lyndal Scranton,Special to The Evening Sun

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- This was not the way Larry Stewart wanted it to end. Hurried shots falling off the rim, time running out on his career and Coppin State's basketball season.

But on a night when Stewart was the only Eagle to make more than half his shots, it did end. Southwest Missouri State defeated Coppin State 57-47 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

For Stewart, the dream was over. The two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year felt helpless in the final minutes as Southwest Missouri milked the clock.

"It's always tough to see it end like this," Stewart said after scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. "I would have loved to have won and played again.

"But that's the way it goes. I just have to move on."

Coppin State finished 19-11. Southwest Missouri (22-11) advances to the NIT second round on Monday, hosting Southern Illinois.

Stewart, the career rebound leader and No. 2 scorer in school history, finished his career in typical fashion. But he had little help on the offensive end.

The Eagles hit only 19 of 47 shots from the field (40.4 percent).

"They played pretty good defense, but we missed some shots that we should have hit," said guard Reggie Isaac, who also saw a sterling Coppin career come to an end.

Isaac, with 15 points, was the only other Eagle in double figures, but he hit only six of 19 shots.

"The one run [Southwest Missouri] made really hurt us," Isaac said.

Coppin erased a 23-20 halftime deficit by scoring the first seven points of the second half. The Eagles led 37-34 with nine minutes remaining.

But the Bears, sparked by point guard Arnold Bernard, ran off a 16-3 streak to take control of the game.

A 6 1/2 -minute cold spell in which Coppin did not hit a field goal proved to be its undoing.

"We hit a dead spot with about seven minutes left in the game," coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said. "From that point on, we were fighting for our lives."

Bernard's return from a seven-minute benching coincided with the start of Southwest Missouri's rally. Bernard, the Missouri Valley Conference assist leader, was slowed with a severe chest cold.

Bernard, 5 feet 5, had a three-point basket, two free throws, two steals and three assists during Southwest's surge.

"The key here was containment of Bernard," Mitchell said. "We broke down on that containment. We contained him pretty well in the first half."

Said Bernard: "The little rest coach gave me helped get my head back into the game."

Bernard finished with 11 points, six assists and six turnovers. Backcourt teammate Darryl Reid had 14 points and five assists. One spurt like the Bears were able to mount figured to make the difference on a night that neither team could find the basket. Southwest Missouri shot only 43.5 percent.

"You have those types of games when you have two good defensive teams," Mitchell said. "It's not a fluke thing."

"This is a good win," Southwest Missouri coach Charlie Spoonhour said. "I know it looked ugly to people. I probably like this win a lot better than the players or the fans because I really like Fang's team. They do a good job out there.

"I'll tell you what, Stewart and Isaac are two fine players. Neither team shot the ball very well, but a lot of that has to be attributed to defense."

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